Democrats celebrated a better-than-expected performance in the midterm elections this week, blunting Republican efforts to gain ground in Congress and across the country. But their relief masked a continued problem: The party still has work to do to shore up its diverse voter base.
In the 2018 midterms, 77 percent of Asians voted for House Democratic candidates, according to network exit polls, compared with 58 percent this year — although data from AP VoteCast showed a smaller decline in Asian American support for Democrats from 2018 to 2022: 71 percent to 64 percent. Separately, AP VoteCast and Edison Research found a majority of voters who are American Indian or Alaska Native favored Republicans this year.
White voters accounted for more than 7 in 10 voters and remained the Republican Party’s greatest source of support, with nearly 6 in 10 voting for GOP candidates for Congress, according to exit polls and AP VoteCast.
Support for Democrats among young voters and women remained high, according to network exit polls, but still slipped. In 2018, voters under 30 supported Democrats by a 35-point margin, according to network exit polls, but that was down to 28 percentage points in 2022. Women supported Democrats over Republicans in 2018 by a 19-point margin; that was down to eight points this year.
The findings come from two large surveys of voters conducted on Election Day and in the days leading up to it, with overall results weighted to match vote tallies. The data provide an early look at how different groups voted across the country, though results are survey estimates rather than firm vote tallies.
Leaders from Latino, Asian American and Black voter outreach groups said the midterm results, while better than they expected, still show Democrats spent too much time attempting to court and flip White voters rather than investing in communities of color, who already display more affinity for the Democratic Party and have historically been shut out of the political process.
“Black and brown voters, particularly Black and brown women, continue to be the base of the party, but the Democrats cannot take their support for granted. They need to take action,” said Aimee Allison, president of She the People, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for women of color in politics. “Because the battle for the White House is happening, starting now.”
Republicans, meanwhile, found mixed midterm success with their efforts to expand their largely White coalition. They fielded the most diverse slate of candidates in the party’s history and poured millions of dollars into demographically diverse parts of the country.
In Orange County, Angilla Wang voted straight-ticket Republican for the first time. She considers herself a moderate and an advocate for abortion rights and efforts to lessen the impacts of climate change. She voted for Obama twice.
But Wang says she has been disappointed by Democrats’ approach to rising crime rates and efforts to strengthen gun laws. They are not doing enough to crack down on crime, particularly at a time when Asian Americans have been the targets of violence, Wang said.
“For the past two and a half years I’ve seen an exponential increase in Asian hate crimes … but we have such soft laws in California. It did not protect, not just Asians, it did not protect our community,” she said. “I feel like the Republican Party is going to do what they can to make it safer in regards to crime.”
Trump did not help matters when he referred to the coronavirus as “kung flu,” Wang said. Researchers found a single Trump tweet calling it the “Chinese virus” was followed by an avalanche of tweets using the hashtag #chinesevirus, among other anti-Asian phrases.
“If you see a top world leader saying the ‘kung flu’ and all that, it’s just like — he definitely did not help the situation. But did he cause Asian hate? Absolutely not. That’s irresponsible thinking in my opinion,” Wang said, adding she would vote for Trump if he was the Republican candidate in 2024.
There is still potential for Republicans to grow their support among Asian Americans, in part, because many are independents, said Christine Chen, co-founder and director of the nonpartisan group Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote. The majority of Asian Americans are immigrants, many naturalized citizens, who did not grow up in households loyal to either American political party, leaving an opening to persuade them, experts said.
On “a lot of the issues, our voters actually side with the Democrats. So, that has been going for them for a long time,” Chen said. “But I would say in the last decade the Republicans have really been upping their game.”
Republicans are closely watching two congressional districts in Orange County where GOP and Democratic Asian American candidates are facing off. The votes were still being tallied as of Friday morning, when the Republican candidates maintained a lead. Traditionally, however, late-counted ballots in the state have benefited Democrats.
Latino voters, who have a historically low turnout rate despite a growing population, played a significant role in competitive races across the country. The results were also a display of the diversity of that community.
In Miami-Dade County, a longtime Democratic stronghold, where Hispanics make up almost 60 percent of the electorate, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis flipped the county for the first time in 20 years. It’s a stunning turnaround in a county that Hillary Clinton won by almost 30 percentage points just six years ago. DeSantis himself lost the county by more than 20 percentage points four years ago and won by 11 points this year.
Across Florida, DeSantis won 58 percent of the Latino vote, according to exit polling, up from 44 percent in 2018.
DeSantis’s victory with Florida Hispanics came after the party focused on deepening support from conservative-leaning Cuban Americans, who make up almost a third of the state’s Hispanic electorate — and making further gains with the state’s growing Colombian, Venezuelan, Nicaraguan and other Hispanic groups. A majority of Puerto Ricans, the state’s second-largest Hispanic group, who historically lean Democratic, voted for DeSantis, according to network exit polls.
The circumstances in Florida, however, are unique. Across the country, Mexican Americans — who make up 60 percent of the U.S. Latino population — favor Democrats.
“If there’s one thing for sure … Latinos are no longer a sleeping giant,” Chuck Rocha, a longtime Democratic strategist who focuses on Latino voters, said, referring to a label often used to describe the Latino electorate.
Democrats weren’t able to significantly cut into gains former president Donald Trump and the GOP made with Latino voters in 2020, said Mike Madrid, a veteran GOP strategist who follows Hispanic voting trends. Instead, the margins in districts with a high population of Hispanics tightened even more compared with past elections, he said.
Exit poll data found that Latino support for Republicans in House votes nationally reached 39 percent, the most since 1978 and up 10 percentage points from 2018. That performance is probably the “new baseline,” said Madrid, co-founder of the Lincoln Project.
Nazareth Jimenez, 18, of Las Vegas voted for the first time this year, supporting Democratic candidates. But she and her family are frustrated there aren’t better options. Her mom, Francis Garcia, is a Honduran immigrant in the United States under TPS, or temporary protected status, and cannot vote. They are waiting for President Biden to fulfill his campaign promise to work with Congress to reform the immigration system, Jimenez said.
“I can see where the [disillusionment] is coming from. Because what are Democrats thinking, that they’ll continue promising and we’ll continue voting for them?” Jimenez said, adding that her brother opted to sit out this election because of his discontent with both parties.
Republicans had mixed results in other Hispanic-heavy areas that they poured money in hoping to build on Trump’s 2020 inroads.
In South Texas, the GOP was bullish about its chances of winning three House seats after spending millions in Spanish-language advertising. Republicans ultimately won only one, Texas’s 15th Congressional District, which was redrawn in redistricting to be a Trump-leaning district.
And Democratic strategists say more victories may be coming thanks to Latino voters, citing heavily Latino districts where votes are still being counted, including in New Mexico and Colorado. If Democrats ultimately secure wins in statewide races in Arizona and Nevada, Latino Democratic strategists and organizers say it probably will be in large part because of Latinos, who make up 1-in-4 and 1-in-5 eligible voters there, respectively.
Baudilia Rodriguez, 70, says voting for Democrats has always been related to her deeply held beliefs on abortion and the treatment of immigrants. She has been directly impacted by the Trump administration’s immigration policies: Her family’s land was threatened by the border wall.
“There are some Hispanics who are Republicans now. And I guess my feeling is, why don’t you treat everybody the same? You know, we’re all human. They say they’re Christian but I mean, to God, everybody is precious. Everyone, even the dog,” she said, pointing to her small white dog in a McAllen park.
Black voters have long supported Democratic candidates at higher shares than other racial and ethnic groups of voters. But while that was still true in 2022, exit polls found the House vote margins for Democrats among Black voters were slightly narrower this year.
Around 8 in 10 Black men supported Democrats, according to exit polls and AP VoteCast; that was down from nearly 9 in 10 in 2018. Nearly 9 in 10 Black women supported Democrats, according to exit polls and AP VoteCast; 92 percent did so in 2018.
Black voters and candidates had an uphill battle this year in several states whose Republican-led legislatures redrew districts to split up the Black vote or otherwise dilute its power, said Cliff Albright, co-founder of voting rights group Black Voters Matter.
Any small slippage in the community’s vote for Democrats is overshadowed by the White vote, which continues to vote Republican, he said. White voters were even more supportive of Republicans this year than in 2018.
“That’s a shift. And that shift needs to be discussed,” Albright said. Instead “we’re having the discussion of ‘What are the Black men doing?’ Well, we’re doing the same we’ve always been doing — voting for democracy.”
Hazel Thomas of Columbus, Ga., who supported gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who lost her bid for election to Gov. Brian Kemp, and Sen. Raphael G. Warnock, who is in a runoff against Republican opponent Herschel Walker, and other Democrats, said she was confident Black voters would continue to strongly support Democrats.
“I don’t know what people expect from a politician,” said Thomas, who is in her early 70s and owns a flower shop. “If you vote for me today, I’m not going to make your life better tomorrow. But people do want that instant gratification. I don’t know what you can do about that, but we just have to start with making sure they know this is their civic duty to go out and vote.”
But Kimberly Nicely, 30, of Gainesville, Ga., said she’s long felt as if politicians forget about people like her. In 2020, she went out to vote for Joe Biden after hearing her family and friends were doing the same, but, two years later, she admits she does not know what he has actually done.
“I’m just living my life the way I know how,” Nicely, a food service cashier, said, adding that this election she was moved to back Republican Gov. Brian Kemp because she felt he was more attentive to the community’s needs: “For me, it’s about being able to have a stable job, job security. And who’s going to help me monetarily. He has.”
Nicely’s fiancee, Christine Thirkield, 39, had never voted before — and she did this year just to support Kemp, too. Thirkield, who works at Home Depot, said she’s never felt that politicians genuinely care about improving her life and chose not to get caught up in politics. Now, that’s shifting for her.
“Everyone is out here just trying to do their best,” Thirkield said. “And I’m doing my part … because I love my country.”
Emily Guskin and Scott Clement contributed to this report.
The 2022 Midterm Elections
Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.
What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.