Hispanic voters in this Pennsylvania city are heading to the GOP. Both parties want to know why.


READING, Pennsylvania – At first, Joseph Nuñez didn’t like Donald Trump. “I couldn’t stand the guy. I didn’t like the way he talked about Hispanics or people in general, ”he said. But by 2020, Mr. Nuñez had become a fan of Mr. Trump’s style and priorities, and he voted for a second term for the president.

The same is true of many other Latino voters in this working-class town who had once supported the Democrats or, like Mr Nuñez, had completely ignored the election. Today, as political strategists continue to sift through the 2020 election results, the emergence of these new Republican voters is sounding the alarm bells within the Democratic Party.

Nationally, Mr. Trump’s share of the Latin American vote increased by 8 percentage points from 2016, according to analysis by Catalist, a Democratic voter data company found earlier this year. New calculations from the firm reveal that while then-candidate Joe Biden won 61% of Latino voters, the shift to the GOP meant he won the group with around 750,000 votes less than Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate four years earlier.

This erosion is a danger sign for the party, given that President Biden’s margin of victory in five states was less than 100,000 votes.

Joseph Nuñez recently took on the post of vice-chairman of the Reading Republican municipal committee.

As Democrats defend narrow majorities in Washington – a 2022 loss of three House seats and one Senate seat would give Republicans control of those chambers – strategists from both parties are trying to determine why a larger party of Latino voters backed Mr. Trump and whether the lag is lasting.

One key finding: The social constraints that were once a barrier to the Republican vote have eroded, largely because the strength of the economy during much of Mr. Trump’s tenure caused many Latino voters to revisit the party. .

“You had a set of Latino voters who weren’t particularly partisan and who considered it socially unacceptable to vote for Trump in 2016,” said Carlos Odio of Democratic-aligned Equis Research, who conducted polls and focus groups to understand the change. . “My friends and family will be mad at me if I do this. You need a rationale to do this.

“The economy, the issue they trusted Trump on, opened the door to embrace it,” Mr. Odio said.

At the same time, many Latino voters came to view the Democratic Party as detached from their main concerns Рunsuccessful in law enforcement, too lax on border security, and too focused on racial disparities, said said Ruy Teixeira, demography expert and co-editor of Le bulletin du Patriote lib̩ral. Among other things, it brought new votes to the GOP from Hispanic voters who have a conservative bent but did not act on it, he said.

“I think the bloom is not rosy for Democrats in terms of getting an automatic Hispanic pass,” Mr. Teixeira said. “They are more suspicious and less sure that the Democratic Party is on their side.”

Other Democratic analysts have taken a more optimistic view. Matt Barreto, who polled Latino voters for Mr Biden’s 2020 campaign, said the important development is that Latino voters have grown more than other groups as part of the electorate – with 30% of the vote more in 2020 than in 2016 – and backed Democrats by wide margins, helping to secure Democratic victories in several swing presidential states and Senate races.

A house next to Ninth Street, a predominantly Latino business district in Reading, Pa., Displays a Puerto Rican flag from a window.

“If you have 30% growth over four years and you win these people 2 to 1, that’s a major accomplishment and should be recognized for some of what Democrats have done well,” he said. said, assessing Mr. Biden’s share as greater than determined Catalist.

Mr Trump improved his 2016 performance among Latino voters in the rural Rio Grande Valley and the large city of Philadelphia and the Borough of the Bronx in New York City, as well as in small towns. Reading is one of Pennsylvania’s poorest communities and is home to a large concentration of Hispanic residents, two qualities that would traditionally make it a safe Democratic stronghold. The city’s tidy row houses, which span over blocks, sometimes display the flag of Puerto Rico or a Latin American country. Some 69% of the city’s residents are Hispanic, a larger proportion than any other town in Pennsylvania.

Mr Trump only won 27% of the vote here, but it was almost 8 points higher than in 2016, which matches Catalist’s assessment of the national trend. As a result, Mr. Biden won the city with about 4,000 votes less than Ms. Clinton, a significant change in a state he won with just over 80,000 votes.

Hispanic voters are more open to appeals from either party, said a group of seven voters convened here recently by Michael Rivera, a Republican, who in 2019 became the first Latino elected to the Council of Commissioners of the Berks County, which includes Reading.

Many said the social pressures that had made many loyal to the Democratic Party were fading, including among new arrivals from Puerto Rico.

“I don’t know if on the plane they put some kind of Democrat sauce in their coffee, but naturally they come here and they register as Democrat,” said Angel Figueroa, Democrat and former city councilor. “But by our culture, we are overwhelmingly Catholic. The vast majority of us are pro-life. The people, and Puerto Ricans in particular, are far more in tune with Republican values. “

Many pointed out that their personal histories showed partisan tendencies to be fluid. Nicolas Camacho, 65, a retired army chaplain, said he was a longtime Republican but voted Democrat last year because Mr. Trump’s comments on Hispanics and immigrants made him feel personally in danger. Mr Figueroa, 47, who works for a nonprofit adult education organization, changed his party registration to Republican to help Mr Rivera win his main campaign, then re-registered as a Democrat the following year to work for the Biden campaign.

Angel Figueroa, Democrat and active member of Reading City politics, said Democrat promises to create a path to citizenship “are just lip service”.

Some disagreed with the closures of Democrat-backed businesses aimed at controlling the coronavirus pandemic. But the mood within the group was a long-term disappointment with both political parties bordering on anger.

Lydia Torres, 45, said she switched to the Republican Party because local Democratic leaders and Democratic-backed programs failed her while raising five children as a single mother. “Democrats care more about children outside the country than those who live here,” she said.

And all said both sides disappointed them on one top priority: creating a more functional immigration system that gives undocumented migrants plausible hopes of becoming citizens.

Democratic promises to create a path to citizenship “are just lip service,” Figueroa said. Pastor Felipe Faña, 65, noted that Republican President Ronald Reagan signed a law granting legal status to around 2.7 million immigrants, while Democrat Barack Obama expelled many Latinos.

Lydia Torres having lunch with her granddaughter, Scarlett Cortez, in Reading, Pa. On December 23. Ms. Torres changed her affiliation with the Republican Party.

“I don’t see that either party is really interested in seeing me as a human… We are just numbers. We need you when we need you, and if we don’t need you, go in the trash, ”Camacho said.

For Wes Anderson, a Republican political strategist, the GOP would be wrong in assuming it can retain Latino voters who walked to the party in 2020. But he thinks Democrats have made it easier with security policies boundaries, law enforcement, and racial disparities that some Latino voters deem too liberal.

Mr Teixeira said the change was a significant problem for the Democratic Party, questioning the central assumption that the party could rely on strong support from minority groups to counter its weakened grip among white voters in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. working class.

Mr. Nuñez, for his part, wants to attract more Latino voters into the GOP.

The strong economy helped Mr. Nuñez, 36, to step off the sidelines and join the GOP as he tried to build a career in real estate and other businesses. Now he wants to stay engaged. He said he had recently taken up the post of vice chairman of the Reading Republican city committee and would work on building the party.

Nicolas Camacho, here greeting a member of the Reading Police Force, voted Democrat last year, citing Donald Trump’s comments about Hispanics and immigrants.

Write to Aaron Zitner at [email protected]

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