How Conservatives Can Engage Latino Voters

How Conservatives Can Engage Latino Voters


In recent elections, conservatives have seen gains with Latino voters. But what is causing this increase in conservative Latino engagement? FreedomWorks vice president of policy Cesar Ybarra joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to dive into the reasons.

“The Democrats label [Donald] Trump as the most racist, anti-Hispanic president in America in history, and what happened?” says Ybarra. “He increased his share of the Latino vote in those four years by nearly 10 points.”

Issues that drive Hispanic voters, Ybarra says, include supporting law enforcement, increasing parental involvement in schools, and lowering prices. Listen to the full interview on the podcast, or read a lightly edited transcript below:

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Listen to these stories and the full interview on the podcast, or read a lightly edited transcript of Ybarra’s interview below:

Douglas Blair: My guest today is Cesar Ybarra, vice president of policy at FreedomWorks. Cesar, welcome to the show.

Cesar Ybarra: Hey, it’s great to be with you. Great to be at [The] Heritage [Foundation].

Blair: Absolutely. Thank you so much for coming. So today we’re going to talk about an issue that doesn’t really get a lot of attention, but probably should amongst conservatives, and that is the policy preferences of Latinos. Before we get too far in this interview, I think it might be useful to define our terms. So how are we defining the term “Latino” here?

Ybarra: … It’s interesting because a lot of people identify as Hispanic, a lot of people identify as Latino. Honestly, it’s kind of a toss-up, it’s kind of preference. But mostly, people who tend to be from Mexico tend to identify as Hispanic, but the further south you go into Central America, maybe Latin America, that’s when people start identifying as Latinos. But it’s almost sort of preference, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into the Hispanic versus Latino identification. Just put them all in one group.

Blair: So when we’re hearing terms like Hispanic American or Latino American, these are basically the same?

Ybarra: Yeah, you’re splitting hairs at that point.

Blair: OK, interesting. So there was this popular phrase that the left liked to use during the upcoming wave of immigration where many Latino voters were entering the country, that they said demographics was destiny and that the fact that more Latino voters were entering the country, they would vote for the left, and the left would never lose an election again. How has that played out?

Ybarra: Well, it’s funny. [President] Ronald Reagan said once, “Hispanics are conservative, they just don’t know it yet.” And it’s something the Democrat Party never realized until recently when this mass media communication started popping up and Hispanics started getting a better outlook into the policy and political world here in America.

And I think one of the biggest mistakes that both parties have made is assuming that just because you’re not white, that means you’re going to automatically be pulled into the Democrat or, say, the center-left political spectrum.

And boy, has that been proven wrong. Just look at everything that’s been happening. As far as the demographic changing, that’s more political, in my point of view, but I think that’s the case right now.

Blair: OK. Well, we did see gains for the GOP under President [Donald] Trump with Latino voters, and I guess I’m curious as to what specifically caused that change.

Ybarra: Well, you look at Hidalgo County, Starr County down in Texas, it’s down in McAllen, Texas, down in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas. I like to give the Hidalgo County story.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won that county by 40 points. That’s 90-something percent Hispanic. In 2020, Donald Trump … lost that county by 17 points. But my point is, that’s a 90% Hispanic county, and he nearly cut his losses by half. So that is huge considering you’re in a 90% Hispanic district.

In the polling that we’ve done at FreedomWorks, we found that crime and safety is a big, big issue. And what are those people in Starr County and Hidalgo County facing? They’re facing drug cartel violence, they’re facing the mass immigration problems, just the criminality that’s happening at the border.

We did a trip down to McAllen to talk to some of the activists and law enforcement people down there, and yeah, they’re not having it.

So it speaks to the idea that Hispanics really care about safe communities; law and order; enforcement of, not only immigration laws, but also just general crime. We see all these woke DAs across the cities not enforcing simple laws or prosecuting people for their crimes. That’s why you saw that big shift in four years.

Blair: … Sounds like these are voters that have the same concerns as everybody else.

Ybarra: Sure.

Blair: If their communities are unsafe or they feel like they’re unsafe, they’re going to vote a separate way.

Ybarra: Exactly. And here’s the biggest mistake, in my opinion, that people in D.C. have made. They’ve always assumed that Hispanics only cared about immigration. That’s so patronizing, and that could not be more further from the truth.

In fact, in our polling, it shows that Hispanics care mostly about the economy, about safe communities, education. Guess where immigration ranks in the issues? All the way at the bottom. … And it’s not only a one-off poll—poll after poll after poll, immigration always ranks at the bottom of the issues that they care about.

Blair: It does seem like this is an issue that both parties seem to believe is a winning issue to court Latino voters. Obviously, Democrats will do this and Republicans will do it as well. Where did that perception come from?

Ybarra: … When I was in college in Arizona, I used to volunteer for The LIBRE Initiative. … We were doing canvassing down in Tucson, Arizona, for the Martha McSally versus Ron Barber race. And we would go down the list of the 10 issues, like, “Where are you on Social Security reform?” And all these things. And 7 out of 10 questions, they gave the conservative answer.

But then when you ask them, “Who are you going to vote for?”, they said, “Well, I’m going to vote for Ron Barber, the Democrat.” “Well, why is that?” The perception was always that, “Well, it’s Republicans who don’t like my family and … they’re bad on immigration, etc.”

Now, that’s the flip side of what I was saying about the issue that they care least about. But … generally speaking, traditionally, Hispanics have seen the Republican Party as a party that wants to kick my grandma out of the country, so to speak. So, yeah.

Blair: Now, we’re seeing that perception change with time.

Ybarra: We’re seeing that perception change because the policy issues are coming to the forefront. I think that’s one of the good things that Donald Trump was able to do, is really highlight the importance of policy, not politics.

I mean, the Democrats label Trump as the most racist, anti-Hispanic president in America in history, and what happened? He increased his share of the Latino vote in those four years by nearly 10 points. That’s huge—like 14 to 15 points in Florida. I mean, the gains he made in these Texas border counties is huge.

Where we still need to make up more ground is in Arizona. But point taken is that he still increased his share of the Latino vote, and that speaks to the importance of talking about policies, not politics.

In the most recent polling that we just did, it showed that Hispanics, they don’t tend to favor Republicans. But when you start talking about conservative policies instead of Republican policies, they tend to side more with us because they identify as conservatives.

And what we’ve seen over the last 40 years is that ideological self-identification correlates with political affiliation, party affiliation. So the more we can start talking about conservative policies on parental rights and low tax, all these good things Heritage talks about, FreedomWorks talks about, the more we’re going to make gains with these communities.

And this is just a start, because from my vantage point, Hispanics still favor Democrat politics, but still they favor conservative policies. So we have a big bridge to build. That’s a future project that’s coming a decade down the line to make that happen.

Blair: Interesting. So one of the things that struck me when you were talking is that there are Latinos in Arizona that conservatives need to be more focused on. It almost makes me wonder, is there really a distinction between these groups? A Hispanic in Florida will vote differently than a Hispanic in New York who will vote differently than a Hispanic in Texas. Is it even useful to use the term “Latino” as a monolithic block of voters anymore?

Ybarra: It just depends also where you come from. David Shor, who was an Obama data guy, super smart guy, he did a postmortem on the 2020 election. He showed that there was a precinct in Doral, in Miami-Dade County, that swung, I think it was 40 points. Hillary had won that precinct by 40 points, and that’s overwhelmingly Venezuelan and Colombian. Trump won that in 2020 by 10 points.

But what does that speak to? It speaks to—OK, you look at Venezuela, you look at Colombia, big history with socialism and big government, etc. So that played a role there. Where versus in Mexico, you had big government policies, but that’s never really been the issue of big tyranny. The issues in Mexico are different than the ones they face down in Venezuela, or Colombia, or Nicaragua, etc. Again, I think it’s more of the politics of the country that they came from versus Latino versus Hispanic, etc.

Blair: Right. So to that point, it almost seems like it’s more useful to look in terms of, “OK, Venezuelan Americans are centralized in this part of the country, so our campaign strategy is to do this,” versus, “A different demographic of Latinos is in this part of the country, so we would tailor the message to be that.” Is that what we’re saying?

Ybarra: Yep. And again, what we should be focusing on as conservatives when we’re reaching out to these communities: the economy/inflation, education, and safe communities.

I mean, those three issues with the right conservative messaging is—I mean, that should be like crack for just the center-right movement in reaching out to those communities. Because these are winning issues that we’re right on policy. And when you’re right on policy, then you have good politics. Good policy is good politics.

So the more we can press and push our policies to these communities, the better outcomes we’re going to have on the electoral side of the spectrum.

Blair: You did mention that FreedomWorks had done some polling recently and you found some of the policy preferences for Latino voters. What were the results of that polling?

Ybarra: Yeah. We just recently did a poll on testing whether they agree with the conservative message or not. So 51% of conservatives agree, or Hispanics agree with the conservative position of prioritizing law enforcement. So prosecuting crimes, however big or small they may be.

Fifty-one percent also agree with support and funding for law enforcement officers. That’s huge because we know the narrative of the Democrat Party is “defund the police” and “cops are mean.” So we got to continue pushing that.

Fifty-seven percent agree that parents should have more involvement in education. Huge. And 58% agree that goods should cost less—gas, food, just day-to-day commodities that have been skyrocketing, thanks to President [Joe] Biden’s inflation.

So yeah, that’s what it showed. And again, but how do we get those numbers? By testing the conservative versus liberal position, and asking them, “Do you agree with the conservative position or with the liberal position?” Not, “Do you agree with the Republican position or the Democrat position?”

So you’ve got to talk about the ideological side of things, not the partisan side of things. Because even if you look at other minority communities … If you look at black Americans, a lot of them tend to also self-identify as conservative. Asian Americans as well. Muslim Americans.

I was listening to a Joe Rogan podcast the other day, and I think it was Maajid Nawaz, or I think that was his name, it was a Muslim American guy, but he was talking about how the Muslim American community self-identifies as conservative, and they’ve seen big gains in his community in voting for Republicans.

So you’re not only seeing this shift in Hispanics, but you’re seeing it across the minority communities that self-identify as conservative.

Blair: Interesting. Does language play a role at all in outreach to the Latino community?

Ybarra: Yeah. I mean, look, my mom, rest in peace, but she was as American as they come, couldn’t speak a thing of English. I mean, she could speak a little bit, but there are thousands of examples like her, where their first language is Spanish, but they’re still American and they still vote.

So yeah, language can be a thing, and that’s why it’s important to have people who speak Spanish in the center-right movement reaching out to those communities, because the language barrier exists, it’s there.

So yeah, it’s a twofold thing. We have to do everything we can to ensure that they have the resources to speak English and all of that self-improvement, but also have the resources to reach out to them when they’re not there yet. So I would say it’s an opportunity for the Spanish-speaking folks in the conservative world to use their Spanish and make some gains.

Blair: Sure. Cesar, I have one final question for you. If we want to continue making inroads as conservatives with Latinos, what specifically should we be doing?

Ybarra: My motto is ABC, always be campaigning. We can’t sleep. We’re not there yet. We’re not fully there yet. Again, our polling still shows that Hispanics favor Democrat politics, but they favor conservative policies. So it’s going to take a village.

We have folks in The LIBRE Initiative doing it, FreedomWorks is doing it. Everyone else that has the resources—politicians, think tanks, advocacy groups—everyone that believes in the freedom message should be doing everything they can to spread their message to the Hispanic community.

Because if we get this right, that’s going to change electoral politics in the 21st century 100%, and the Democrats are going to be scrambling. Because if we’re able to make a dent in the Hispanic community, I mean, I’m getting goosebumps of just how fun it’s going to be in getting good policy passed in Congress or in the state legislatures, school boards.

So keep pushing your message. Be creative in how to message to those communities. And we can do it.

What did President Biden do in the election? I mean, he got Bad Bunny to do an ad for him. He’s one of the most famous Hispanics. He played “Despacito.” And, I mean, those things don’t work. He got on a press conference, got his iPhone and played “Despacito.” OK, who cares? That’s not Hispanic outreach. He got his wife to say “si se puede.” I think she couldn’t even say “si se puede” right.

All these things, just as a young kids say, cringe outreach, we should not be doing that. We should be focusing on policies. Education, economy, safe communities. We get those three right, we’re going to win.

Blair: Excellent. That was Cesar Ybarra, vice president of policy at FreedomWorks. Cesar, I very much appreciate your time.

Ybarra: Thank you.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.