NC’s Hispanic voter base is young and growing; can Republicans win them over?

CJ photo by Kari Travis
  • Part 1 of a three-part series on the growing Hispanic community in North Carolina.

The Hispanic community in North Carolina has surged in the last decade, and so has its influence within the state. Today, Hispanics represent more than 1 in 10 residents in N.C., according to U.S. Census data. The community is among the most courted blocs in the state due to projected population growth, yet North Carolina’s Hispanic voters are a group starting a subtle shift to Republican.

Nationally, Hispanics represented more than half of all population growth in the country between 2020 to 2019. While most of this growth in pure numbers was concentrated in southwestern states like California, Texas, and Arizona, southern states like NC are experiencing higher growth as a percentage of the total population.

In NC, one out of every three Hispanics was born in the state, and among the states with more than one million Hispanics, their median age is the lowest at 25, according to stats from the Pew Research Center and the Office of State Budget Management.

About 39% of NC Hispanics are eligible to vote, lower than the average 53% across the country, according to the Pew Research Center. The reason for this lower eligibility rate is the low median age of the community overall which precludes those under eighteen from voting as well as a significant portion of the Hispanic population not having American citizenship.

Save America rally on April 9, 2022 in Selma, N.C. Photo by Tim Robbins, Carolina Journal

Hispanic Voting Trends

The youth of the population and their projected population growth makes the Hispanic community a potentially large voter base.  Historically, Hispanic voters have tended to vote Democrat, but this started to reverse during the 2020 presidential election.

Biden held on to the majority of Hispanic voters in 2020, but the margin by which Democrats won over Hispanics was significantly less than they had during the 2018 midterms and even less for the 2016 election. The margin of victory for Hispanic voting for Democrats in 2016 was 38%, the 2018 midterms rose that to a 47% margin, but then the margin fell significantly to only 21% during the 2020 presidential election, according to Pew Research data

Newer data projecting the eventual voting habits for Hispanics in the 2024 presidential election signal that this trend might not end. A 2022 National Latino Voter Tracker Poll by the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) found that Republicans are still consistently polling 10 points better with Hispanics than they did during the 2018 midterms. 

When asked who they plan to elect to Congress in November, 57% of survey respondents support Democratic candidates, and 31% support Republicans.

That same report found that only half of the survey respondents said that they had been contacted by a political party. Of those, seven out of ten were contacted by the Democratic Party, and the rest were contacted by the Republican Party.  

The NALEO poll also shows a Hispanic skew towards prioritizing Democratic-favored issues like abortion rights (28%) and addressing mass shootings and gun safety (24%), yet they still rank inflation and the rising cost of living as their most important issue (46%); an issue conventionally viewed as a Republican strong point. 

These national results suggest both a constant lack of outreach from the Republican party and yet still a trend toward the Republican party from Hispanics despite the difference in voter outreach and the misalignment of key issues.

CJ contacted leaders from both parties to test whether these national trends applied to North Carolina. Several Republicans responded, but no one from the N.C. Democratic Party, including their Hispanic Caucus, opted to respond with their outreach strategy for Hispanic voters. 

How Republicans are responding 

Juan Pleitez, Policy Advisor for Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, and Vice-chair of the North Carolina Republican National Hispanic Assembly (RNHA), spoke with CJ about the path he sees for Republicans winning over Hispanics. 

Pleitez said that Republicans have a big opportunity to appeal to Hispanic voters by appealing to the conservative values inherent in their culture.

“Hispanics can be summed up in the following phrase: faith, family, and freedom,” he said. 

Even though the polls may not support Pleitez’s view that Hispanics are essentially conservative, he still believes this is further proof that more outreach and conversations need to happen. 

“When you talk about securing our borders and public safety, all that’s something that really hits home to Hispanics because when crime is coming across the border, it’s affecting our neighborhoods,” Pleitez stated. “These are the same types of conversations that Hispanics have around the dinner table. Why is the crime rate so high? Why is inflation so high? Why are you paying so much in taxes? Let me tell you that there is an answer [to these problems], and it is conservatism.”

Pleitez, who became politically active in the lead-up to the 2016 election, said that he felt that Donald Trump was successful specifically because he was able to speak to the silent majority, which he felt included “a significant portion of the Hispanic community.”

Yet, as a flurry of recent polls has shown, Trump is not as popular with Hispanic voters compared to the average of all Americans. Pleitez suspects a lot of this may be true due to Trump’s “style or rhetoric.”

“Hispanics, at the end of the day, are interested in the policies we are delivering, regardless of whether Trump or another leader is involved,” he said.

According to Omar Lugo, a former Alamance County Republican party chair, Republicans continue to fail to overcome the challenges of both Trump and the Republican Party’s reputation because effective communication keeps being disrupted.

“It’s no conspiracy theory that Hispanics are conservative by nature, meaning we’re family oriented, we’re education driven, [and we’re] business driven,” Lugo said. Yet, according to Lugo when Republicans are approached by Hispanics, they often neglect to hear them and instead respond in ways that “make us [Republicans] sound ignorant.”

Lugo gave an example of one conversation he personally had with an unnamed state senator who, after thanking him for a bill that would help his own homeschooled children, asked Lugo whether his children were in the country legally.

“It was like a cold shower . . . I mean, what does this even have to do with your immigration status?” Lugo said. “At the end of the day, all these people crossing the border at some point, the majority of them are going to become voters. If we want to talk about that, we can, but that’s just the response that I got. That’s the reason that many of us don’t want to talk to Republicans.” 

Eduardo Andrade, Chairman of the RNHA, says that while there are isolated incidents like Lugo’s, most Republicans are not out of touch with Hispanic voters.

“I think that’s patently false because I speak and work with legislators all over the state and they reach out to me at county parties nonstop to go across the state to talk to GOP elected officials,” said Andrade. “Obviously there are some misconceptions and some ignorance with some folks, [but] I think that for the most part folks are wide open to Latinos knowing that they are more conservative and Republican than they are liberal or Democrat.”

Offering amnesty, according to Andrade, would contradict the republican party’s values as a “law-abiding party.”

“We can create immigration reform and policy that makes it easier to get a visa [or to] get a green card to actually go about it in a legal way ,” he said. “But I’m not going to ever be in favor of amnesty because that is rewarding illegal behavior.”

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