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How Did Latinxs Vote in the Mid-Terms?

Turnout levels appear to have been high—and high numbers of Latinxs told their friends and families to vote too.
Election worker Leah Barney (right) watches over voters as they cast their ballots on November 6th, 2018, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Election worker Leah Barney (right) watches over voters as they cast their ballots on November 6th, 2018, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In the weeks leading up to the 2018 election, President Donald Trump ignored the pleas of his advisers to focus on the economy and instead chose to center immigration in his campaign messaging. Just before Election Day, Trump's campaign released an advertisement that many news stations, including Fox News, deemed too racist to air. The ad insinuated that immigrants from Latin America bring crime and violence to the United States—even though most research indicates that immigrant communities, both documented and undocumented, commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born Americans.

With many calling Trump's messaging overtly anti-Latinx, all eyes were on Latinx voters as Americans cast their ballots on Tuesday.

Here's what polling tells us about the Latinx vote in 2018.

Turnout May Have Been Historic

With all votes cast, it will take researchers some time to deduce what the exact turnout rate was for Latinx voters—a community that, in past years, has voted at a lower rate than other demographic groups. Still, according to Matt Barreto, co-founder of the Latino Decisions polling firm, early polling data and voting numbers indicate that Latinxs may well have come out to vote in historic numbers.

Polls released in the days before the election showed surging Latinx enthusiasm, and a greater number of "definite" voters. But for Barreto, the most useful clue that Latinx turnout might have surged is the overall turnout in Latinx-majority districts. In Texas, in communities characterized by a large number of Latinxs, turnout was at historic levels. For instance, in Latinx-majority El Paso, Texas, turnout levels were at 168 percent compared to the last mid-terms. Turnout levels in the state's other Latinx-heavy counties, like Dallas, Webb, and Travis, were also many times greater than previous years.

"It's harder to track turnout; it's probably going to be a while before we get a firm handle on that," says Gabe Sanchez, a professor of political science and principal at Latino Decisions. "But we can say that, especially relative to the last off-year, there are definitely greater levels of enthusiasm and turnout among Latino voters."

"This election reaffirmed that, for Latino voters, candidates matter, issues matter, and meaningful outreach is nonnegotiable," says Janet Murguía, president of UnidosUS, the country's largest Latinx advocacy group.

The Most Important Issues for Latinxs Are the Economy and Health Care

Perhaps clashing with popular assumptions about Latinx voting habits, immigration was not the No. 1 issue for the community this year. The American Election Eve Poll of 2018, run by Latino Decisions and a variety of partners, revealed that the most important issues to Latinx voters are health care and the economy.

"Interestingly, in past elections, immigration was out front or No. 2. But this year, it's the economy and jobs, tied with health-care access. What that tells me is that the Democrats' strategy—of making the election about health care and the Affordable Care Act—clearly worked among Latinx voters," Sanchez says.

Sanchez also notes that, if Trump had heeded advisers' wisdom, Republicans might have fared better among Latinx voters. "I think we might have had slightly different outcomes if Trump had stayed on message and really made [the election] about the economy," he says.

Latinxs Overwhelmingly Support Democrats

In response to questions in the AEE Poll, 74 percent of Latinxs said they intended to vote for the Democratic candidate, compared to the 24 percent who said they would vote for the Republican. There were other indications that Latinxs, in general, distrust the Republican Party: Thirty-nine percent of Latinxs agreed with the statement "The Republican Party is being hostile towards my community."

However, there are indications that Latinxs do not fully trust Democrats. Thirty percent of Latinxs responded affirmatively to the statement "The Democratic Party does not care too much about my community," and 10 percent agreed with the statement "The Democratic Party is hostile to my community."

Latinx Voters Played a Key Role in Flipping Many Republican-Controlled Seats

In multiple statewide elections, Latinxs played a key role in unseating incumbent Republicans. In Nevada and New Mexico, two states with large Latinx populations, Republicans lost the governors' houses to Democrats.

In New Mexico, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is Latina, defeated her Republican challenger in a rout, winning 56.9 percent to 43.1 percent. Sanchez credits the new governor-elect's win to Latinx voters. "Given that the electorate is 40 percent Latino, you cannot win an election in New Mexico without having a majority of Hispanics," he says.

Dean Heller, the incumbent senator in Nevada, also lost his seat to a Democrat. And in congressional races across the country, evidence indicates that Latinx voters helped unseat Republicans and propel Democrats to victory.

Person-to-Person Mobilization Was High

Something interesting happened within the Latinx community this year: Pollsters discovered that the number of Latinxs encouraging family members and friends to vote had skyrocketed. With the numbers highest among Latinas, 67 percent of Latinxs overall reported that they had encouraged friends and families to register or vote—a number that experts say is much higher than past years.

"If we do see that enthusiasm and turnout among Latinos is where we think it is—which could be higher than ever for an off-year—a big part of that was person-to-person mobilization," Sanchez says.