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Jan 2, 2024, 6:06am EST
politics

Hispanic leaders warn Democrats: Voters are fed up with Biden

REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
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The News

President Joe Biden is heading into 2024 with concerning numbers among Hispanic voters: A new USA Today/Suffolk survey shows him trailing Donald Trump by five percentage points, with many reluctant to back either candidate. While it’s an especially rough poll, others have also shown him struggling to match his 2020 numbers with a key swath of the Democratic base — and Hispanic leaders say they’re seeing the same problems on the ground.

“It’s a matador red flag flying out there — the Hispanic vote is totally up for grabs,” Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, told Semafor. “[Trump’s] cutting the margins. And in battleground states like Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, that can be a big difference.”

Conversations with leaders of Hispanic groups and political consultants in both parties underscored Biden’s difficult path forward. His challenges with Hispanic voters are not dissimilar to his problems with the broader electorate: Dissatisfaction over inflation, concerns about record-high border crossings, and lack of excitement over his policy accomplishments. And even as he works to shore up border security with a potential bipartisan deal in Congress, members of his own party warn he could also lose support in November if an agreement ends up being perceived as overly hostile to immigrant communities.

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Garcia told Semafor that the “fear of a second Trump presidency” and the prospect of dramatically stepped-up deportations remains an asset for Biden, especially with women. But the president still hasn’t figured out how to package his presidency in an appealing way.

“They’re lacking a core message and right now Latino voters are really concerned about economics — inflation has eaten away at their paycheck, the cost of rent… trying to buy a house seems to be more elusive than ever,” he said.

Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Business Council — a leading advocate for Hispanic-owned firms across the U.S. — criticized the administration’s triumphal “Bidenomics” push, arguing it’s not reflective of what people on the ground are actually experiencing.

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“I understand their need to create a narrative and to drive that narrative. It’s a tried and true strategy that has worked for administration after administration, campaign after campaign,” Palomarez said. “But the narrative they’re building is one that is a bit tone-deaf to what’s actually happening in the Hispanic community — and I’m not even saying that they’re incorrect.”

Palomarez added that he’s had several conversations with White House advisors heading into 2024: The discussion, according to him, is normally “a healthy debate about how they’re right and we’re wrong.”

Tayde Aburto, president of the Hispanic Chamber of e-Commerce, is based in Southern California, which is still a Democratic bastion. But he warned he was hearing rising concerns from business owners and voters this cycle about cost-of-living issues like housing as well as public safety — concerns that Democrats needed to confront them head on.

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“I can sense that there is discontent, or they’re not that confident that another four years of the current administration is gonna get us out of the issues that we’re dealing with,” Aburto told Semafor.

And while Florida is increasingly falling off the electoral map, Julio Fuentes, president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said Biden should still be worried that even some “hardcore Democrats” seem increasingly fed up with his performance on the economy and border issues.

“[Biden] did have a good percentage of the Hispanic vote here in Florida on his first go-around,” he said, “but you just see that dwindling, literally on a weekly basis.”

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Shelby’s view

Biden faces a more aggressive Republican Party, which has worked harder in recent years to recruit Hispanic candidates, run up the score in conservative-trending areas like Florida, and challenge previous Democratic strongholds in places like Texas (with mixed results in the midterms). And while Trump has struggled with Hispanic voters overall, he made significant strides between 2016 and 2020.

But Biden’s struggles with Hispanic voters don’t automatically mean Trump will get their support. Hispanic leaders I spoke with highlighted how voters are dissatisfied with both options — and that the 2024 election could be a “hold your nose” type voting situation, if voters decide to turn out at all.

In a way, that’s a red flag for team Trump, too: The USA Today/Suffolk survey found that a number of voters said they’d back someone besides the two leading candidates. Recent polling by Quinnipiac found Robert F. Kennedy Jr. running especially well with Hispanic voters, attracting 33% of their support in a three-way matchup. But third party support often fades closer to election day and it’s still hard to predict where those voters might break.

“The equal dissatisfaction for both of the leading presidential candidates has Hispanics opting out of party affiliation, and that should be a concern,” Palomarez told me. “Hispanics are going to vote for the person and his policies, not the party. And so neither party should be taking that for granted.”

Still, this trend away from Biden is an opportunity for team Trump, who has honed in on how voters feel about the economy in a way that the Biden campaign has not.

Massey Villarreal, chairman of the Texas Association of Business, told Semafor that as of now, Trump has a real opportunity to come out on top. The migrant influx in the state and economic concerns are in some ways linked, he noted: Many Hispanics in Texas are “up in arms” after U.S. Customs and Border Protection temporarily suspended operations at two railway bridges due to the border crisis, for example.

“All that Trump would have to do is run a campaign about who shut down your job,” he said. “I mean, it’s gonna be pointed at Joe Biden.”

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Room for Disagreement

Matt Barreto, a Democratic Party advisor, maintained that once the Biden campaign’s messaging fully sinks in with voters, the poll numbers will begin changing for the better as “frustrated” voters hear more from him.

“What we have seen is when you talk to those folks who maybe had supported Biden in ‘20 and are telling people they’re undecided now — they’re horrified of Trump. There’s almost no chance they’re going to vote for Trump,” he told Semafor. “If the campaign continues to emphasize contrast, and Biden’s accomplishments, then I think …in the battleground states where it matters, the average Latino voter is going to be well informed and they’re going to say, this is a serious election.”

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The View From the Biden campaign

Team Biden says they aren’t taking Hispanic voters for granted: They’ve launched multiple ads, earlier than ever, over the past few months targeting Latino voters, and have already begun programs focused on key voting groups in battleground states.

“A second Trump presidency would be a disaster for our community,” Maca Casado, the Hispanic Media Director for the Biden campaign, said in a statement. “The MAGA platform stands against Latinos’ support for good jobs, quality health care, and protecting our hard-fought freedoms. The stakes of this election couldn’t be higher for us which is why our campaign is investing earlier and more than ever into mobilizing Latinos well ahead of the election. We are encouraged by the consistent, strong support we’ve seen from Latinos across our battlegrounds in the midterms and look forward to continue proving the same pundits and polls wrong again next November.”

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Notable

  • President Biden is planning on making more direct appeals to Hispanic voters in 2024 by visiting minority communities as the election heats up, Axios recently reported.
  • Donald Trump sees an opportunity among young voters — many of whom are Hispanic — and is courting them through nontraditional media, sporting events, and even rappers, Semafor reported last year.
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