Democrats like to think that demographics are destiny. But that’s not true, as we should know by now. Part of that is the idea that the Latino vote is going to be a consistently Democratic voting bloc. But Latinos voted for Trump at a higher rate than they did for Romney and he has held a reasonable base, despite openly demonizing them. Why? Evangelicalism is a huge reason:
Though Latino voters are a key part of the Democratic coalition, there is a larger bloc of reliable Republican Latinos than many think. And the GOP’s position among Latinos has not weakened during the Trump administration, despite the president’s rhetoric against immigrants and the party’s shift to the right on immigration.
In November’s elections, 32 percent of Latinos voted for Republicans, according to AP VoteCast data. The survey of more than 115,000 midterm voters — including 7,738 Latino voters — was conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.
Other surveys also found roughly one-third of Latinos supporting the GOP. Data from the Pew Research Center and from exit polls suggests that a comparable share of about 3 in 10 Latino voters supported Trump in 2016. That tracks the share of Latinos supporting Republicans for the last decade.
The stability of Republicans’ share of the Latino vote frustrates Democrats, who say actions like Trump’s family separation policy and his demonization of an immigrant caravan should drive Latinos out of the GOP.
“The question is not are Democrats winning the Hispanic vote — it’s why aren’t Democrats winning the Hispanic vote 80-20 or 90-10 the way black voters are?” said Fernand Amandi, a Miami-based Democratic pollster. He argues Democrats must invest more in winning Latino voters.
Moreover, with someone less openly racist as Trump, evangelical Latinos will be less torn about what to do:
“That is contributing to the death spiral of the Republican Party — even if it holds at 30 percent,” Madrid said. “That’s a route to death, it’s just a slower one.”
Gonzalez, the pastor, sees the trend in Colorado. He distributed literature across Spanish-speaking congregations supporting Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton, who was crushed by Democratic Rep. Jared Polis as the GOP lost every race for statewide office.
Gonzalez understands the anger among some Latinos at the GOP and Trump for what he says is a false impression of a solely hardline immigration stance. “In the community that is not informed, that is following the rhetoric of the media, there’s a view that Donald Trump is a bad guy,” Gonzalez said. Evangelicals “understand that he’s there to defend values.”
Gonzalez’s church is Iglesia Embajada del Reino, or Church of the Kingdom’s Embassy. On a recent Saturday night, an eight-piece band played Spanish-language Christian rock before Gonzalez walked to the podium. Wearing a blue corduroy blazer, blue shirt and grey slacks, Gonzalez, a onetime member of a Marxist group in Colombia, told his congregants that they were ambassadors of a higher power — the kingdom of God.
“It’s important that your political opinions, your social opinions,” not enter into it, Gonzalez said. “We need to represent the position of ‘The Kingdom.’ ”
Gonzalez did not mention Trump in his sermon, though he spoke about the Bible as a book of governance.
Afterward the congregation gathered for bowls of posole, a traditional Mexican soup. When politics came up, church-goers struggled to balance their enthusiasm for some of Trump’s judicial appointments with their distaste at his rhetoric and actions.
“I think the president has good, Christian principles,” said Jose Larios, a parks worker. “But we feel as Latinos that he doesn’t embrace our community, and our community is good and hard-working.”
My wife is a scholar of this very issue, so let me provide a few thoughts. The impact of evangelicalism on Latin America is highly mixed. The Catholic Church has so failed the poor of Latin America that it has opened a huge vacuum for alternative religions that is being embraced, particularly by the poorest populations, whether Brazil, Honduras, or southern Mexico. The more indigenous or black the population, the higher likelihood they will convert to evangelicalism, by and large. If you go to cities in Guatemala or Honduras or Venezuela (though I haven’t been to the latter but so I have read) empty theaters and other downtown buildings are now evangelical churches. Moreover, the evangelicals do provide messages around stopping domestic violence and alcoholism that the Catholic Church is largely silent on or relatively indifferent about, at least on the ground in these communities. There are also messages about money and capitalism that ultimately provide individualism over community and entrepreneurship over social programs. This is thus a big part of the people who might move to the United States. It is no guarantee that Democrats win high numbers of Latinos, especially when compared to other racial groups. Of course, it’s no guarantee Republicans hold on to that 30-40% either, but they have more room to move.