By Mike Madrid & Lucas Holtz
Jan 9, 2023, 8:00 AM
The 2022 election demonstrated that both parties have an enormous challenge and opportunity when it comes to securing the support of Latinos—one of the most critical groups of persuadable swing voters in the country. Following a tumultuous redistricting process, the national number of competitive districts last year was reduced to the lowest number in decades—House seats decided by five-points or less in 2020 were decimated from 51-to-34. Some believed that this would lead to a wash of competitive races in the midterms. Yet in 2022, there were 36 seats nationwide decided by five-points or less, and Latino voters had an outsized impact in 18 of those races—double the number of races from 2020. Ten of these broke for Democrats, and eight broke for Republicans.
In a national environment that favored Republicans, the backlash to Roe v. Wade1410 U.S. 113 (1973), overruled by Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., 142 S. Ct. 2228 (2022). being overturned, combined with robotic MAGA candidates and effective Democratic message discipline, led to the GOP largely failing to persuade swing voters in some of the most competitive pickup opportunities this cycle. However, there were exceptions where these factors were still not enough to move swing voters to the Democratic column in races that may have determined control of the House of Representatives—notably in one of the bluest of blue states, California.
Republicans managed to win seven of California’s 10 most competitive congressional districts in 2022, despite the fact that Joe Biden won five of those seven districts in 2020. Across these competitive districts, there was an aggregated 9.5 percent swing to the right from 2020 to 2022.
Some might blame redistricting as the culprit for Democrats not winning these seats—cracking and packing has and continues to be used to great effect to dilute the voting power of minority voters throughout the country. Yet, over the last three election cycles, Democrats have been gradually losing support among the largest minority population in California, Latino voters. This poses an existential problem for Democrats as Latino voters have immense influence in the outcomes of nearly every one of the ten most competitive districts in California.
In 2022, the independent redistricting commission in California complied with a section2Voting Rights Act of 1965, Pub. L. No. 89-110, § 2, 79 Stat. 437, 437 (codified as amended at 52 U.S.C. § 10301). of the Voting Rights Act that pertains to underrepresented racial or ethnic groups, which, according to Paul Mitchell, a political data analyst and Principal of Redistricting Partners, “played a major role in the increase in majority-Latino districts in California.” Today, there are more majority Latino districts than ever before in the state. In fact, California’s independent commission instituted the largest increase in the number of Latino-majority districts than any state in the country.
Under the old adage that “demographics are destiny,” Democrats would have expanded their power in the California congressional delegation and benefited from the newfound Latino influence in these majority-minority districts, yet the opposite has occurred. In 2022, across California’s 17 most Hispanic-concentrated congressional districts, where a Democrat and a Republican both ran for election, there was an aggregated 11.2 percent swing to the right from 2020—and Republicans managed to win the only three competitive races of the 17 that were actually in play and flipped one of those three from blue to red.
Over the last three election cycles, Republicans have managed to make marginal yet significant gains in their support among Hispanic voters across the country. Yet curiously, California’s independent redistricting commission was one of the few states that gave Latino voters more voting power for the next decade, while states where Republicans controlled the redistricting process barely improved Latino voting power, as in Florida, and even reduced Latino voting power in congressional districts in the case of Texas—even though Latinos accounted for 53 percent of Texas’s net population gain over the prior decade and some of the biggest rightward swings in the state came from the Rio Grande Valley.
While these three Latino electorates are far from identical, the GOP’s performance among California Latino voters in 2022 is evidence that the Republican Party has nothing to lose when they must compete and fight to win Hispanic voters over. This heightened competitiveness similarly forces Democrats to engage and work for Latino voter support, and it enables representation that better reflects the priorities of the Hispanic community. The same argument can be made about a Republican Party that must fight to persuade Black voters. But when the GOP engages in tactics to dilute and underrepresent Latino voters with fewer majority-minority districts, as the Texas GOP did, it may end up portending to a Latino vote that is further reticent of the Republican Party in the long term.
However, even if both parties were forced to compete for Latino voters in more competitive districts, this alone will likely not be enough to motivate these voters to show up. Turnout in the three most competitive Latino-concentrated districts in California was 10 percent lower than the average of the other seven most competitive districts in the state. Simply put, both parties have failed to address their shortcomings with the Hispanic community, and it shows.
Democrats and Republicans alike have a tenuous relationship with Latino voters as it stands today, but one thing remains certain—the party that is able to successfully persuade Latino voters over the next decade will inexorably determine who wins and retains political power for a generation.
- 1410 U.S. 113 (1973), overruled by Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., 142 S. Ct. 2228 (2022).
- 2Voting Rights Act of 1965, Pub. L. No. 89-110, § 2, 79 Stat. 437, 437 (codified as amended at 52 U.S.C. § 10301).