The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Biden is bleeding support from Hispanic voters. Democrats should be petrified.

Supporters gather to watch a presidential debate at a Latinos for Biden-Harris watch party in North Las Vegas on Oct. 22, 2020. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

President Biden’s cratering poll numbers with independent voters have received a lot of attention. Less noticed — but just as important — are his plummeting numbers among Hispanic voters.

Biden won Hispanics handily in 2020. While it’s true that this demographic moved in former president Donald Trump’s direction compared with 2016, Biden still trounced Trump by a 65-32 margin among Hispanics according to the exit poll. Those good feelings carried over into the early months of Biden’s presidency. In late May, Biden’s job approval among Hispanics averaged 60 percent, with a net approval margin of 32, a bit larger than his vote margin the prior year.

Hispanics have since abandoned Biden in droves. His job approval among Hispanics in three polls taken in early October has declined to a mere 43 percent . Moreover, 46 percent of Hispanics now disapprove of his performance. That swing against Biden is even larger than the swing among independents. Data for Hispanics are difficult to come by for the Clinton and Obama administrations, but there seems to be no evidence that Hispanics have ever given either presidencies a net negative job approval rating. Indeed, Barack Obama’s job approval with Hispanics averaged higher than 60 percent throughout his first term, and Hispanics voted 60-38 for Democrats in the 2010 GOP wave that netted them 63 House seats.

One can argue that Biden owes his election to the supermajorities he garnered among Hispanics. He won between 60 and 62 percent of the Hispanics vote in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin according to state exit polls, besting Trump in each state by between 23 and 25 points. In each state, Biden’s estimated vote margin with Hispanics was larger than the total number of votes by which he carried the state. He would have lost Arizona and Georgia if his margin among the demographic had slipped to a mere 10 points, and he would have lost Wisconsin had it dropped to only five points. Switching those states to Trump would have created a 269-269 tie in the electoral college, throwing the election into the House of Representatives, where Republicans controlled a majority of the state delegations and would have voted to reelect Trump under the procedures set by the 12th Amendment.

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Democrats could argue that the fall in Hispanic support may be more a product of survey methods than a real decline. Hispanics are only about 10 percent of likely voters, meaning the sample sizes for that demographic are usually small with large margins of error. But the three polls from May that showed Biden well ahead are from the same companies that show him behind now; any survey issues applicable today would have been equally applicable then. Moreover, other polls have also shown Biden running poorly among Hispanics since the summer. It’s possible that Biden’s decline is a statistical blip, but the likelier explanation is that the decline is real and sharp.

It’s not too hard to figure out why Hispanics might have turned on the president. Only 21 percent of Hispanics approve Biden’s handling of immigration, according to the most recent Economist/YouGov poll. That’s down massively from the 56 percent of Hispanics who said the same in a late May Economist/YouGov poll. The share of Hispanics that think immigration is a very or mostly serious issue has also risen over that time from 78 to 85 percent. Getting on the wrong side of an increasingly important issue is always a bad move.

But it’s not just immigration. The most recent Politico/Morning Consult poll asked respondents about how they think Biden is handling a host of issues. Hispanics roughly mirrored the overall average on each question; that is, they responded more like average voters than Democratic partisans. That’s telling for a group that has been historically favored Democrats by a 2-1 margin or more. Back in December 2019, Hispanics regularly gave Trump lower approval marks across a range of policies than the country as a whole, as expected from a Democratic-leaning group. They were still behaving that way in the spring, when an Economist/YouGov poll reported that Hispanics gave Biden higher marks than the country across the board. The fact that has changed is a real warning sign for Democrats.

Republicans have increasingly argued that they are becoming a multiracial working-class party. These poll results suggest the door is wide open among Hispanics for Republicans to make that appeal. If they succeed, it’s game, set and match for the GOP’s future.