Democrats in Washington lost ground with Latino voters despite 2022 wins, data shows

Edi­tor’s Note: Guest con­trib­u­tor Andrew Hong is a data sci­ence stu­dent at Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty and life­long Wash­ing­ton­ian from South Seat­tle. He has pre­vi­ous­ly worked as a cam­paign con­sul­tant, com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­er, statewide coor­di­na­tor of Redis­trict­ing Jus­tice for Wash­ing­ton, and cur­rent­ly serves as a Research Data Ana­lyst at the Wash­ing­ton Com­mu­ni­ty Alliance Data Hub. Andrew can be reached at this email address with any inquiries. NPI is delight­ed to be able to share his time­ly and well researched elec­toral analy­sis in this guest post. 

One of the biggest polit­i­cal shocks in 2020 was the Lati­no vote shift­ing to the Repub­li­can Par­ty, with some coun­ties in Tex­as­’s Rio Grande Val­ley shift­ing toward Trump by as high as 50%. Wash­ing­ton’s Lati­nos large­ly bucked that trend in 2020. But in 2022, the Lati­no con­ser­v­a­tive wave reached the Ever­green State.

By ana­lyz­ing data from the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau and Sec­re­tary of State’s 2022 elec­tion results by vot­ing precinct, I’ve esti­mat­ed the mag­ni­tude of the Lati­no Repub­li­can shift was well into dou­ble dig­its. I also mod­eled the degree to which this shift came from depressed Lati­no turnout or his­­tor­i­­cal­­ly-Demo­c­ra­t­ic Lati­no vot­ers cross­ing par­ty lines, which I will expand on fur­ther below.

2016–2020 Pres­i­dent Shift, Yaki­ma (Graph­ic by Andrew Hong) 
2016–2020 Pres­i­dent Shift, Tri-Cities (Graph­ic by Andrew Hong) 
Per­cent His­pan­ic by Precinct, Yaki­ma (Graph­ic by Andrew Hong) 
Per­cent His­pan­ic by Precinct, Tri-Cities (Graph­ic by Andrew Hong) 

Democ­rats and pro­gres­sives should care deeply about the Lati­no vote. Lati­nos make up the state’s largest minor­i­ty racial group, and are fast grow­ing in Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton where they form majori­ties in mul­ti­ple counties.

For exam­ple, in Yaki­ma Coun­ty, Lati­nos make up a major­i­ty (51%) of the pop­u­la­tion, up from 36% just twen­ty years pri­or. These com­mu­ni­ties have his­tor­i­cal­ly made up a key part of the Wash­ing­ton Democ­rats’ mul­tira­cial elec­toral coali­tion, and as they grow in size, they rep­re­sent Democ­rats’ best oppor­tu­ni­ty to flip red dis­tricts to win leg­isla­tive super­ma­jor­i­ties in Olympia.

On the oth­er hand, if this year’s trend con­tin­ues, work­ing class Lati­no vot­ers — along­side work­ing class Asian, Black, and Lati­no vot­ers in King Coun­ty — could deliv­er a reemer­gence of the Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­can Party.

Electoral data analysis

The first and most obvi­ous sign of wor­ry for Democ­rats was in a local coun­ty com­mis­sion­er race in Yaki­ma. In 2021, a judge ruled that Yaki­ma Coun­ty vio­lat­ed the Wash­ing­ton Vot­ing Rights Act by bar­ring Lati­no vot­ers’ legal­ly pro­tect­ed abil­i­ty to elect can­di­dates of their choice.

This land­mark deci­sion led to the cre­ation of three coun­ty com­mis­sion dis­tricts — two of which are major­i­­ty-Lati­no dis­tricts that Joe Biden won by dou­ble digits.

Yet in 2022, Democ­rats failed to win a sin­gle district.

In the over­lap­ping, new­­ly-drawn major­i­­ty-Lati­no 15th leg­isla­tive dis­trict, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date for state sen­ate only received 32%, down a whop­ping 17% from Biden’s nar­row vic­to­ry in the dis­trict in 2020. While the 15th Dis­trict will like­ly be redrawn by fed­er­al courts next year because it vio­lates the Vot­ing Rights Act by divid­ing minor­i­ty pop­u­la­tions and geo­graph­ic com­mu­ni­ties of inter­est, the vast drop in Demo­c­ra­t­ic sup­port in this dis­trict spells trouble.

2018–2022 US Sen­ate shift, Tri-Cities (Graph­ic by Andrew Hong) 
Per­cent His­pan­ic by Precinct, Tri-Cities (Graph­ic by Andrew Hong) 
2018–2022 US Sen­ate shift, Yaki­ma (Graph­ic by Andrew Hong) 
Per­cent His­pan­ic by Precinct, Yaki­ma (Graph­ic by Andrew Hong) 

These trends extend­ed to statewide races, although to a less­er degree.

For exam­ple, Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray earned just 1.2% less of the vote statewide in 2022 than Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell did in 2018.

But crit­i­cal­ly, in Lati­no-heavy Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton, Mur­ray dropped 4.8% from Cantwell’s 2018 run. (Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton is defined here as Grant, Yaki­ma, Adams, Franklin, and Ben­ton coun­ties — the cen­ter of the Lati­no com­mu­ni­ty in Wash­ing­ton.) Cantwell in 2018 and Mur­ray in 2022 share sim­i­lar dynam­ics: pop­u­lar incum­bent Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors run­ning for re-elec­­tion dur­ing a midterm year, each receiv­ing a sim­i­lar final statewide result. Thus, it’s a good pair of races to rep­re­sent gener­ic par­ti­san changes over the past four years.

When dig­ging deep­er into the data, we find that much of the Repub­li­can gains came from major­i­­ty-Lati­no precincts.

Some precincts in East Yaki­ma, East Pas­co, and the Yaki­ma Low­er Val­ley can reach up to 90%+ Lati­no, and these areas had Repub­li­can shifts as high as 35% between 2018 and 2022; this occurs even as major­i­­ty-white precincts in West Yaki­ma and Tri-Cities had actu­al­ly Demo­c­ra­t­ic gains.

Indeed, my data mod­el of these two elec­tions at a precinct lev­el approx­i­mates a dra­mat­ic 17% drop in Demo­c­ra­t­ic sup­port among Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton Lati­no vot­ers from 2018 to 2022, while only a 2–3% drop among white voters.

It seems that the polit­i­cal earth­quake that began two years ago in the Rio Grande Val­ley has offi­cial­ly hit Wash­ing­ton, the Ever­green State.

2018–2020 change in Demo­c­ra­t­ic sup­port ver­sus per­cent Lati­no (Graph­ic by Andrew Hong) 
2018–2022 Cen­tral WA US Sen­ate Demo­c­ra­t­ic Vote­share, by Race (Graph­ic by Andrew Hong) 

Turnout versus shifting preferences

These pro­found changes raise fur­ther ques­tions: is the Repub­li­can shift in Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton due to turnout (Lati­nos vot­ing in small­er num­bers) or vot­ing choice (Lati­nos switch­ing to the Repub­li­can Par­ty), or both?

By return­ing to the Cantwell 2018-Mur­ray 2022 com­par­i­son, we find turnout decreased in 2022 across Wash­ing­ton, but dropped more in Cen­tral Washington.

Here, my precinct-lev­­el analy­sis deter­mined while white turnout dropped from 78% to 72%, the already low­er Lati­no turnout plunged from 42% to 23% among Lati­nos — a stag­ger­ing 19%. This means Lati­no vot­ers went from being 16% of the Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton elec­torate in 2018 down to 10% in 2022.

Lati­no vs 2018–2022 Turnout Dif­fer­ence (Graph­ic by Andrew Hong) 
Cen­tral WA Turnout 2018–2022, by Race (Graph­ic by Andrew Hong) 

While this turnout dif­fer­ence is sig­nif­i­cant, it was not big enough to account for all of the Repub­li­can gains. If we assume Lati­nos and whites vot­ed for Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates at the exact same pro­por­tion as they did in 2018, the change in turnout in 2022 would only explain a 2.9% Repub­li­can gain.

But there was a 4.8% Repub­li­can gain, so that means a lit­tle less than half of the GOP shift was not from turnout changes, but from pre­vi­ous­ly Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers vot­ing Repub­li­can in 2022.

We also know that the Repub­li­can gains in Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton were in most­ly heav­i­­ly-Lati­no com­mu­ni­ties like East Yaki­ma, East Pas­co, and the Yaki­ma Low­er Val­ley. So most of those Demo­c­rat­ic-to-Repub­­li­­can vot­ers were like­ly Lati­nos, not whites. So the answer to the ques­tion posed above is both: the Repub­li­can shift was because Lati­nos both vot­ed less, and the ones that did vote vot­ed more Repub­li­can altogether.

An impor­tant caveat, albeit wonky: because we do not have pub­lic data on vot­er reg­is­tra­tion rates by race/ethnicity, this analy­sis does not account for prob­a­ble dis­par­i­ties between white and Lati­no vot­er reg­is­tra­tion rates. 

There­fore, this analy­sis like­ly over­es­ti­mates the over­all share of the vote that is Lati­no, and there­fore over­es­ti­mates how much depressed Lati­no vot­er turnout explains the Repub­li­can shift. Put dif­fer­ent­ly, this mod­el like­ly under­es­ti­mates the true mag­ni­tude of Lati­no vot­ers switch­ing par­ties to vote for Republicans.

Charts show­ing eli­gi­ble vot­ing pop­u­la­tion and pro­ject­ed vote­share by race for 2018 and 2022 (Graph­ic by Andrew Hong)


2018–2022 Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton: Mod­eled Source of Repub­li­can Shift (Graph­ic by Andrew Hong)

Wash­ing­ton Democ­rats declared the 2022 cycle a resound­ing vic­to­ry, but a 17% decline in sup­port with­in the fastest-grow­ing minor­i­ty group spells trou­ble for Democ­rats’ future. In ten years, Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton will see mul­ti­ple major­i­­ty-Lati­no leg­isla­tive dis­tricts and a new major­i­­ty-minor­i­­ty con­gres­sion­al district.

Democ­rats have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to chal­lenge for anoth­er seat in the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and achieve a leg­isla­tive super­ma­jor­i­ty to sub­mit state con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ments to vot­ers. But their lack of atten­tion to the Lati­no sleep­ing polit­i­cal giant could pave way to Repub­li­can dom­i­nance in the region.

This lack of atten­tion can be seen in that no Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates were recruit­ed to run in a Biden+15 dis­trict for Yaki­ma Coun­ty Com­mis­sion — a painful missed opportunity.

2018–2022 Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton Repub­li­can gains, by race (Graph­ic by Andrew Hong)

If the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty invests into can­di­date recruit­ment and fundrais­ing, it can make up some of this ground. But a mes­sen­ger with­out a strong mes­sage won’t deliv­er the votes. Polling by the Pew Research Cen­ter, among oth­ers, has shown Lati­nos gen­er­al­ly pri­or­i­tize eco­nom­ic issues over social issues.

Some polit­i­cal sci­en­tists and Demo­c­ra­t­ic strate­gists, such as Ruy Teix­eira, have argued — cor­rect­ly, in my view — that Democ­rats have lost work­ing class Lati­no vot­ers by de-empha­­siz­ing eco­nom­ic issues for social issues in an effort to appeal to upper-class sub­ur­ban vot­ers. That’s come at the cost of work­ing class vot­ers of all races. In fact, Democ­rats also lost ground with work­ing class Asian and Black com­mu­ni­ties last year in my home in South Seat­tle and South King County.

To buck this right­ward trend, Wash­ing­ton Democ­rats need to embrace a clear, pop­ulist, eco­nom­ic-focused mes­sage — and deliv­er leg­is­la­tion — that speaks to work­ing class vot­ers of col­or. They also need to invest in can­di­date recruit­ment, cam­paigns, and orga­niz­ers in these communities.

With the sup­port of work­ing class Lati­no vot­ers, Democ­rats could win a his­toric statewide man­date in these next two decades.

Andrew Hong

Andrew Hong is a data science student at Stanford University and lifelong Washingtonian from South Seattle. He has previously worked as a campaign consultant, community organizer, statewide coordinator of Redistricting Justice for Washington, and currently serves as a Research Data Analyst at the Washington Community Alliance Data Hub.

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