The Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project recently released its 2016 Latino National Survey. The poll includes questions about Latino/as partisan and ideological identification and their attitudes toward the two major political parties. An in-depth look at the poll suggests that in the near future Latino/as’ confidence in political parties will plummet because Latino millennials are the most skeptical of the parties’ concern for Latinos.
The poll shows that Latino partisan affiliation remains rather stable since the 2012 elections. In 2012, 63 percent of Latino voters identified as Democrats and 24 percent as Republicans. Today, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Latino registered voters identify as Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party, with about one-quarter (24 percent) identifying or leaning toward the Republican Party. Nearly 1-in-10 Latino registered voters (12 percent) do not identify with a political party.
These partisan leanings somewhat mirror another question in the survey. A majority of Latino voters (54 percent) think that the Democratic Party “has more concern for Hispanics/Latinos” and only about 1-in-10 (11 percent) picked the Republican Party. However, nearly 3-in-10 Latinos (28 percent) say there is no difference between the parties, up from 22 percent in the Pew poll last year.
That last option of “no difference” between the parties’ concern for Latinos could be interpreted in two ways. Either 28 percent of Latinos think that both parties care about Latinos or 28 percent of Latinos think that neither party cares about them. My interpretation leans toward the second option for one particular reason. As I have previously noted, while Latinos tend to have negative opinions of the GOP, their opinions of the Democratic Party are mixed and many Latinos consider the party to be ineffective about the issues they care about or willing to betray them if it is politically expedient.
Thus, even as Latinos’ voting patterns trend increasingly Democratic in presidential elections, warmth toward the Democratic Party has stagnated during President Obama’s second term. In other words, and paraphrasing what I say in my dissertation, Latinos’ affinity for the Democratic Party in recent elections should be interpreted not as evidence of increasing homogeneity among Latinos, but the result of the limited options that emerge in a two-party system.
The crisis of confidence in American political parties as it relates to Latinos is even more profound among millennials, in the poll defined as Latinos between the ages of 18 and 35 years. Though Latino millennials’ partisan affiliation mirrors the overall Latino numbers (60 percent Democrat, 23 percent Republican), they are nearly twice as likely as older Latinos to state no political party preference (17 percent vs. 9 percent). In other words, nearly 1-in-5 Latino millennials feel alienated by the political parties. Keep in mind that 43 percent of Latino registered voters are millennials and that Latinos are very young, with many more under the age of 18 expected to join the electorate in the coming years.
Latino millennials’ lower levels of partisan identification are also reflected in their opinions about the parties’ concern for Latinos. Nearly 4-in-10 (38 percent) Latino millennials say there’s no difference between parties in their concern for Latinos, nearly twice as high as older Latinos (21 percent). Political parties will need to do a better job at addressing issues concerning Latinos. As Latino/a millennials become a larger segment of the electorate, and as the country continues its path toward a more ethnically and racially diverse population, both parties will need their votes and they’ll have to earn them.