Republicans made gains in Latino-majority districts in California, 2022 election data shows

A new report shows Republicans are gaining footholds in some California electoral districts where Latinos make up the majority population, a development that might concern some Democrats moving forward.

The report from Third Way, a self-described “center-left” national think tank, shows although those areas lagged in voter turnout last year, Republicans saw marginal gains.

One expert says the results are an indicator Republicans are continuing to receive a higher level of support from one of America’s fastest-growing voting blocs.

The data examines heavily concentrated Latino congressional districts in seven states — Arizona, California, New York, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico and Florida.

In California’s 14 Latino-majority districts, for example, where a Democrat and a Republican both made the 2022 ballot, 10.8% more voters swung Republican from 2020 to 2022, compared to 7.1% from 2018 to 2022, the data shows. Most of the districts were located in Central and Southern California.

The report highlighted the Central Valley’s 13th and 22nd Congressional Districts, where conservatives Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, and Rep. John Duarte, R-Turlock, triumphed over Democratic competitors in close November races respectively.

Lucas Holtz, political analyst and author of the report, said the research differentiates midterm and presidential election results as they are “ideologically varied” as midterms are generally known for receiving less turnout.

“California Democrats have a major challenge on their hands,” Holtz said. “They’re not driving turnout ... even with an insane amount of investments and those that they are turning out, they’re clearly not persuading.”

Holtz warned against making broad conclusions about the Latino vote, since the report only examines voting at the geographic level. Regardless, Holtz said the report reveals Democrats will need to improve at persuading Latino voters as 2024 approaches.

Matt Barreto, president of BSP Research in Los Angeles, which studies Latino voting trends, also cautioned against making definitive statements about what the data says about how Latinos as a group are voting.

Barreto said historically, in areas with a growing Latino population, white voters will turn out to vote at higher rates. This would mean that white voters in a congressional district could result in a rightward shift.

Case in point: A district heavily composed of Latinos does not necessarily mean they are the majority voting.

“There’s a long history in American politics that shows that when a minority group starts to increase in presence, it can cause whites to vote more conservative,” Barreto said.

More conclusive numbers on the Latino vote will be available in the coming months, with the release of the precinct and individual data.

California Latino vote no longer a certainty for Democrats?

Latino support for Republicans has fluctuated over the years, but a rightward trend became apparent during the Trump administration. Between 2016 and 2020, Trump garnered 37% support to Joe Biden’s 63%.

California Latinos were regarded as the exception to the trend, reflecting the legacy of the anti-immigrant rhetoric Republicans employed in the 1990s. Most notably, Proposition 187 in 1994 sought to ban immigrants from receiving social services, health care and education. The measure is regarded for setting a decades-long anti-Republican narrative.

But that may soon change, according to a Republican Latino voting trends expert Mike Madrid.

“It is more pronounced outside of California, but it is now finally happening,” Madrid said. “One of the great ironies of California is that it prides itself on being sort of the preview of coming attractions, but in the largest demographic shift in the history of the country, California is behind the rest of the country.”

Madrid believes Latinos in the Golden State are entering a post-Prop. 187 era, where Democrats will need to improve their economic agenda to drive the Latino electorate. He said Latino lawmakers, in particular, have for too long focused on issues that won’t help solve the economic concerns of the community. Madrid added that Democrats also need to invest money to fix the “Latino turnout problem.”

“Democrats just never had to worry about it, because the Republicans have never been a viable alternative,” Madrid said. “But now when you see a rightward shift, some alarm bells go off.”

While Latinos make up almost 40% of the state’s adult population, they only account for 22% of likely voters, according to an August 2022 report from the Public Policy Institute of California.

Mindy Romero, director of USC’s Center for Inclusive Democracy, called the 2022 midterm election turnout for California Latinos “deeply disappointing.” She said, unlike other states, California saw a reduction in turnout compared to 2018.

“A lot of people working in Latino communities across the state are trying to grapple with not only lower turnout, but why,” Romero said.

Low midterm election turnout — particularly for Latinos — has long been an issue, Romero said. This trend stems from outdated voter outreach models and a perceived lack of sincerity from candidates who do not visit a community until election season. Other people might not participate for fear of choosing the wrong person or option.