Latinos have played an increasingly crucial role in our elections, but Democrats' understanding of these voters has often lagged. This week's guest on "The Downballot" is Carlos Odio, the co-founder of EquisLabs, an organization devoted to rectifying this problem. Odio helps us move away from viewing Latino voters as a monolith and offers a helpful framework for getting to know different subsets of this diverse group. He discusses key findings of Equis' 2022 post-mortem, including why Florida went so wrong and how Democrats can make a course correction. He also explains how Latino voter identity can wind up getting dialed up or down depending on the broader election environment.
Host David Nir and guest host Joe Sudbay, meanwhile, dive into Chris Sununu's retirement announcement and why it instantly makes New Hampshire's race for governor a top Democratic target; the Republican shenanigans in Alabama, where lawmakers seem dead-set on ignoring a court order to draw two majority-Black congressional districts or something close to it; why Democrats will take a new effort to recall several Michigan state representative seriously even if the state GOP is a clown-show; and yet another special election in Wisconsin where Republicans badly underperformed the top of the ticket.
Subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show—new episodes every Thursday! A full transcript of this week's show is below.
David Nir: Hello and welcome! I'm David Nir, political director of Daily Kos. "The Downballot" is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency, from Senate to city council. Please subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review. David Beard is off this week, but I'm joined once again today by our frequent guest host, Joe Sudbay, and we have a lot to cover.
There is a major retirement in New Hampshire. The goings-on in Alabama regarding the state's congressional map. Recall attempts by disgruntled Michigan conservatives, and a special election in Wisconsin that once again saw Democrats outperform the top of the ticket. Then we are going to be talking with Carlos Odio, the co-founder of EquisLabs, a nonprofit devoted to increasing Latino electoral engagement. He is going to be sharing the results of a big post-mortem his outfit did on the 2022 elections, and also tell us about what Democrats should be doing to reach out to Latino voters for 2024. It's an excellent episode, so let's get rolling.
Well, I always miss David Beard when he is on vacation, but Joe Sudbay, I love having you in the guest host chair. Thanks for coming on.
Joe Sudbay: Well, thank you, David. And I love being in this guest host chair. Much as I love it when I'm guest hosting on Sirius XM Progress and you join me, it's always the most fun interviews when we get to spend some time talking about what's going on, and we're going to do that today.
Nir: We sure are. Glad to return the favor. Right before we started recording this episode on Wednesday afternoon, we got some big news out of New Hampshire. We have to start there, Joe.
Sudbay: Yes. The governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu, Republican. He's been in office; he first won in 2016; announced this week that he's not running for reelection. It would be his fifth term because New Hampshire elects a governor every two years. Every two years. The only other state that does that is Vermont, but this makes New Hampshire really a great pickup opportunity for Democrats. It's a very competitive state. The Democratic Party in the state is extremely well organized. They know exactly how many votes they have to get.
Sununu has been a tough competitor. He's a legacy, his father was the governor at one point as well. And he's been popular because he has been a New Hampshire Republican in that he's pretty pragmatic. He hasn't been a true Trumpian MAGA Republican, and it looked like there was some chatter that he might run for president this year. There was also some chatter that he may run for Senate, we've heard that for a long time too, off and on over the years. His future has been speculated upon just about more than any other politician in New England. And now he's retiring now. He's only 48 years old, David, which I thought... I mean, he feels like he's been around forever.
Nir: What have I done with my life?
Sudbay: Right? But there are already some Democrats who've announced that they're going to get in the race. Manchester, which is the largest city in the state, the mayor, Joyce Craig is running. And also Cinde Warmington, who serves on the state's Executive Council; that's a really unique five-member body that has veto power over government contracts and nominations to state posts. It's kind of an odd thing. It's like New Hampshire's the only place that has it, but it does give her a big platform to run from.
We're already starting to see Republicans get in the race. Former Senate President Chuck Morse is getting in; he announced already. You remember him, he was in the primary last year for Senate and he was the favorite candidate of Mitch McConnell, and then he lost to Don Bolduc, who was an extreme MAGA Republican, and Bolduc then went on to lose to Maggie Hassen by a wide margin. Former Senator Kelly Ayotte is going to get in the race too, she lost a race for Senate in 2016. So it's going to be a long primary because New Hampshire, their primary, first state for presidential, pretty much last state for gubernatorial; it won't be until September of 2024. There's always a good chance that some Looney Tune will win; it is New Hampshire. But yeah, it's a presidential year; I think that bodes well for Democrats.
Nir: I agree. Joe Biden won New Hampshire by seven points last time. And New Hampshire is an unusual state; the electorate does tend to be uncommonly swingy, compared to other states. But I'm not seeing a good reason why Biden wouldn't turn in a similar performance. And if he does, that's automatically a huge headwind for the GOP, even if they don't nominate someone who's totally fucking Looney Tunes like Don Bolduc, which I means, I don't know, 50-50 chance at least that they do that. When Sununu won in 2016, he only won by a couple points and Clinton only carried New Hampshire by less than half a point. So the environment obviously just was kind of sucky in 2016, and there's no real reason to think that we'll be looking at that same environment in 2024.
Sudbay: Yeah, I agree. I went to college in New Hampshire. It is a quirky state, but I agree and I think it should be a good year for Biden at the top of the ticket. Trump has never won New Hampshire and I don't think he'll win it this time, assuming he's the nominee. The other thing is, David, as you know, what are there, 400 members of the New Hampshire House? It's pretty much even right now, give or take, on a given day. And I just feel like 2024 could be the year that Democrats retake the state House in Concord, and we’ve got to keep an eye on it. It's going to be very competitive.
Nir: Absolutely. Another story that is actually still unfolding as we're recording “The Downballot” this week, is what's going on in the Alabama legislature. We have talked about this case a lot on this show. Our listeners know that the Alabama legislature has to pass a new congressional map because a federal court ruled that the current map violates the Voting Rights Act because it discriminates against Black voters. And the Supreme Court, shockingly, rather famously at this point, upheld that ruling quite recently. The court set a deadline of Friday for lawmakers to come up with a new map, and literally at this minute, lawmakers on Wednesday afternoon were convening to debate various maps. But all of the maps that Republicans have actually been considering and voting on failed to do the one thing, the one thing the court told them to do, and that was to create a second congressional district where black voters would be able to elect their preferred candidate.
Now, we know that Black voters in Alabama almost certainly prefer Black Democrats. The other thing that we know is that white voters in Alabama almost always vote Republican. So the court, in a very lengthy and learned and detailed opinion, was aware of all of this in just really, truly extraordinary detail. It said that any replacement map, because of Alabama's history of this racially polarized voting, should have two districts where the black voting age population is either a majority or "something close to it." The GOP maps definitely do not have anything close to a black majority. One plan had just a 42% black population, the other was just 38%. Both of those districts would've voted for Trump. There's almost no way that they would ever send a Black Democrat to Congress.
What's going to happen here, assuming that the legislature actually doesn't have a last-minute change of heart and pass a legitimate plan by Friday, is that the court is then going to scrutinize whatever map that Republicans do wind up producing, and they're going to see whether they think it complies with the Voting Rights Act. And if they disagree, and I really think that they will disagree with Republicans here, they're almost certainly going to draw their own map. They're going to have some outside experts come in and create a map that passes muster. In fact, they already have some experts ready to go.
Now, what Republicans are doing here, who the hell knows? There are various theories explaining this weird foot-dragging that they're engaged in. It honestly may be that they're just a bunch of ding dongs, Joe, who think that they can fool the court, but this court is just not going to get fooled. And at the end of the day, I'm almost certain that we will see a legitimate, bonafide map where African-American voters make up a majority in two districts, and are able to send two black Democrats to Congress next year.
Sudbay: Yeah. David, I have to say, watching this play out, I mean, it's not surprising that Republicans in Alabama are doing this, but it is still just shocking. Remember when we all first started writing in the blogosphere and there was this phrase, "It's okay if you're a Republican?" It's okay if you're a Republican to ignore the Supreme Court. I mean, they were just giving you a suggestion about what to do. Oh my God. Look, 42% is not a majority, 38% is not a majority. No matter how you get the fuzzy math, it's not. And I agree, I think the court's going to step in and impose a map that should be reflective of the population and do what the Voting Rights Act...
Look, the Milligan decision from the Supreme Court was a shocker to all of us, and I'm sure it was just as shocking to Republicans in the state. But still, I mean, the Supreme Court actually meant it, and I think the district court and the panel will make sure that that edict is carried out.
Nir: Yeah, there is absolutely something to the modern Republican Party. There's something about them that says they think that only they are the legitimate governing entity in this country. And whenever anyone contradicts them in some way, shape or form, they essentially reject it out of hand as illegitimate. And I think that's what we're seeing in Michigan, which I know you want to talk about. This is a state, of course, that we have discussed on this show a ton this year, where Democrats very famously, in a huge upset won back both chambers of the legislature in the 2022 midterms, giving them their first complete trifecta, their first total control over state government since 1983. And now Republicans are trying to undo that in what really feels like an anti-democratic way.
Sudbay: Oh, absolutely, David. First of all, let's just recall that the reason Democrats were able to take control in 2022 is because the voters of the state in 2018 said, "We're sick of gerrymandering and we're sick of these voting restrictions." They actually had fair maps, and the Democrats competed and they won the House and the Senate, as you said. And because they have the trifecta, they have been passing terrific legislation on so many issues, on labor issues, on gun issues, on LGBTQ issues, on abortion issues, on economic issues. The Democrats are showing what can be done, and putting the people of their state first. What a concept, right? What a concept.
Two of the bills they've passed in the House, they passed a hate crimes bill that added sexual orientation and gender identity to the law. They also passed a red flag law in terms of guns so that you can take guns away from people who may pose a threat to themselves or others. These are both very standard bills and legislation that have passed in other states around the country, in other sane states I should say. But of course that has wreaked a backlash. Part of the backlash started because Fox News spread lies about the hate crimes law.
So now there are five targets for a recall. All women representatives, Jennifer Conlin of Ann Arbor, Betsy Coffia of Traverse City, Sharon MacDonell of Troy, Reggie Miller of Van Buren Township, and Jaime Churches of Wyandotte. And they want to go after them because all these women won competitive races. Voters chose them, but now because they are doing what they promised to do, they can't have it. So there's a whole effort underway to recall them. But what's important, David, and it's something you pointed out at Daily Kos, was the ability to recall is based on getting a percentage of the vote in last year's election for governor in each district. That's a pretty high number because there was really good turnout last year in Michigan, reelecting Governor Whitmer, so that's a hurdle for them. Another hurdle is, even though this group of right-wing conservatives isn't necessarily associated with the party. They're all kind of intertwined in their own ways. And the Michigan Republican State Party is just about broke. They've all been fighting amongst each other, which has generated a lot of in-state and national headlines. Like literal fights. I'm not just saying “arguing.” They've been arguing, but there've also been fights.
Nir: Oh, yeah. They had a fist-fight break out at a party meeting. Some guy said he got kneed in the groin, something like that. I mean, just really...
Sudbay: Yeah. So imagine that they're too busy fighting to raise money. They've only got about $93,000 in the bank according to the Detroit News. The current party leader is Kristina Karamo. She's an election denier who ran for Secretary of State; lost badly to Jocelyn Benson. It was like a 56-42 margin. I don't think she's conceded yet. But that's kind of the gang we're up against in Michigan. And hopefully, this recall election will go nowhere. But it just shows you what we're up against in even states where Democrats are in control and we're making progress.
Nir: Yeah, and the Republican Party doesn't seem to have said anything about the recalls. It's almost like they know that they're not likely to succeed. The state Democratic Party, up and down the line, "Oh, we're going to fight these. We're going to protect these members." And Joe, to talk about the signatures for a second that you mentioned that these activists would need to get on the ballot. So you need 25% of the vote in the district from the last gubernatorial election, signatures equal to that number. And the numbers will vary from district to district, but that's probably about 11,000 signatures in a single state house district. There are 100 districts in Michigan, and that is actually a ton. It's a huge, huge number.
If they were trying to recall Gretchen Whitmer, the governor, Republicans would need more than a million signatures. And you could never get a million signatures for something in Michigan. Now, I don't know where they're going to get the money, I don't know where they're going to get the enthusiasm. But Democrats do have to be on guard because I mentioned at the outset that Democrats last had the trifecta in 1983. What happened then was that Republicans actually succeeded in recalling two Democratic state senators, and then held the Senate for 40 years until last year. So I'm sure everyone is going to take this seriously, even if Republicans are clowns. But yeah, they're clowns and I think we're going to watch them stumble over their feet.
Sudbay: I hope so. And I will say, David, it's something you and I have talked about, I do feel like Democrats, particularly at the state level, but even at the national level, have a much better understanding of the import of state legislative races, and we can take nothing for granted. And that's what we're seeing. And I am sure that's what we'll see in Michigan this year. I hope so, anyways.
Nir: Yeah, I mean there have been so many rapturous articles about the Michigan legislature and the Minnesota legislature, who've just been, both of them, won by Democrats last year. Democrats have been passing awesome stuff left and right. You talked about the red flag bill and the anti-hate crime bill in Michigan. We should mention one thing about that. You talked about the lies that Fox News was spreading about that bill. Fox News fucking said that the anti-hate crime bill could make it a felony to use the wrong pronoun. I mean, this is the bullshit we're up against.
Sudbay: Absolutely. And look, let's just say the anti-LGBTQ forces have been on a roll in states around the country. And Michigan, Minnesota, Maine, California, Colorado, other states, other progressive states have blocked it, and it's driving the right crazy because they really do want to inflict this horrific agenda around the country. So that's why these states where progress is made are so vitally important, and we have to keep it up and expand those numbers.
Nir: So one last item. Joe, you remember that special election for the Wisconsin state senate that took place the same time as the huge election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court earlier this spring?
Sudbay: I do. I absolutely remember it. I actually spoke to the Democratic candidate on State of the States on SiriusXM Progress.
Nir: Yeah, Jodi Habush Sinykin. She ran a great race. This was a traditionally Republican district and she lost by just a very close margin. But the guy who beat her was a Republican member of the state assembly, Dan Knodl. And so he had to give up his seat in the lower chamber. So there was just a special election on Tuesday for that district, and that district was even more Republican leaning than the state senate district from back in the spring. In fact, Trump won it by about 16 points. Now, Republicans won that special election on Tuesday night, but the Republican candidate only beat the Democrat by around seven points. So that means that the Democrat, Bob Tatterson, actually ran ahead of the top of the ticket by nine points. That is a big overperformance.
Now this district is actually nested inside of that state senate district, but it's even more Republican than the senate district, and it's in the northern Milwaukee suburbs. This is a traditionally conservative area that really has been trending toward the left ever since Trump. But that's by no means the only problem for Republicans. At Daily Kos Elections, we catalog these special elections very, very carefully and so far this year we have 20 in our database. And Democrats in those special elections in aggregate are running seven points ahead of Joe Biden in 2020. That is a big overperformance.
And as we've noted before, performance in special elections taken together tends to be pretty predictive of what happens in the next general election. And so, if Democrats are still around seven points ahead of Biden's mark, and remember that Biden won the national popular vote by more than four points, that is another huge warning sign for Republicans. And it's also just amazing that this is happening while a Democrat is in the White House. We saw this in 2017, 2018 when Trump was in the White House, but Biden's in the White House. That's not supposed to be happening.
Sudbay: That's right. That's right. These numbers and the work you and your colleagues at Daily Kos Elections are doing to track this is critically important. And David, we hear a lot of prognosticators and pundits making predictions, and you see articles about what the year is going to be like. I like to look at actual numbers and results of things that actually happened. And this is, to me, one of the clearest indicators. And I thought it was the case back in 2022 as well as the entire punditry was still predicting a red wave. I remember Axios had a red tsunami watch headline in late October of 2022. But you had been seeing pretty good numbers in special elections, including the special election for the House seat in New York, New York 19, in August that no one expected. “No one,” quote, unquote.
So yeah, I think this is a really good indicator. We're still a ways out, but I'd much rather be looking at us seeing Democrats running seven points ahead of where Biden was in 2020 than just about anything else right now.
Nir: And things could change because prior to that last batch of special elections late in the cycle in 2022, the numbers weren't looking good for Democrats. But obviously, we know what changed. Something enormous changed, and that was Dobbs. The thing about '23-'24 is the things that are changing are only getting worse for Republicans. I mean, climate change is unbelievably salient right now. Inflation keeps dropping. The stock market, for whoever actually cares about that, is going up. Voters' views of the economy seem to be going up despite the traditional media's best attempts to fear-monger about it. So something kind of has to change for Republicans and it's really hard to see what that could be.
Sudbay: Yeah, especially on a national level when the only thing they seem to be focused on is Hunter Biden. So I don't know if that's a big rallying cry for your average voter when, like you said, all these other factors matter. Look, the entire country is impacted by climate change this year. The smoke in major cities, the heat in the South, I mean we have hurricane season. I thought it was really very brave of Governor DeSantis, whose state is losing insurers, to say, "Knock on wood, nothing bad happens with hurricanes this year." I mean, if that's your strategy, Jesus Christ. I don't know.
Nir: Well, that's going to have to do it for our Weekly Hits. Coming up, we are talking with Carlos Odio, the co-founder of EquisLabs, about Latino voters and how Democrats can best reach them. Stay with us after the break.
Joining us on "The Downballot" this week is Carlos Odio. Carlos is the co-founder of EquisLabs, a nonprofit devoted to increasing Latino electoral engagement and building long-term political power. Carlos, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Carlos Odio: Thanks for having me on, guys.
Nir: So tell us about the history of Equis, and how you helped launch it.
Odio: Sure. So my co-founder, Stephanie Valencia and I, we both worked on the 2008 presidential campaign together, on the Latino vote, specifically. And as you can imagine, there were lots of conversations we had at that point about gaps that we felt still existed when it came to engaging Latino voters. We went off and did a number of things. We both worked in the administration, her for a lot longer than I did. I worked at an organizing institute. I ran a donor table, a donor collaborative in Florida for multiple years. She worked in tech, she also worked as a donor advisor. And we came together ten years later and said, "So many of these gaps that existed ten years ago still exist now." This was 2018, early 2019. And we said, "This might be the moment we need to come together, take all this expertise, all these relationships, and leverage them to address what are these gaps in the understanding and engagement of Latino voters."
So we started Equis, and it started with the research. The idea was if we could get deeper research... So much understanding of Latinos was based on a single snapshot, a single poll that was done over the course of a cycle, or collecting small numbers of interviews from a number of public polls. And that's how you gathered your understanding. Even when we got a new generation of great pollsters like Matt Barreto, people were going to them once, saying, "We checked the box," and then moving on and that was it. So we said, "What we need to do is we need to work with Matt and with others who have expertise in this area and say, 'Let's get enough sample size in given states that we can really get deeper, understand the differences, the real cleavages in the community, and over time so we could separate the signal from the noise and understand what was meaningful action.'"
And what we realized quickly is, also, people didn't just want numbers. Mark Kelly's at 63% with Latinos in Arizona. They wanted to know what does that mean? What's the context? What's the story here? Where's this going? And so we built out more internal capacity to be able to do that. At the end of the day, we've now built out from research. We have other programs around media and democracy, lots more experiments that we do. But at the end of the day, it's all about Latinos. If they're invisible in the data, they are going to be invisible to campaigns. So how do we make them visible? And even if you don't come at this from the Latino side, if you want an understanding of the American electorate, then you need to understand its most dynamic elements.
Sudbay: It's really been such a great addition to the political landscape in my opinion, Carlos. But before we dive in too much more, you mentioned Latino vote. We often hear that term and every couple of years we hear it from people who try to explain it to us, who haven't done the level and depth of research that you have. And it's not a monolith. So just give us a broad overview of the Latino electorate in the United States.
Odio: So we can look at this a few different ways. There is the simple one, if anything is simple, that is country of origin or place of origin. So nationally, eligible Latino voters, 6 out of 10 are Mexican-American. So a majority is Mexican-American. In most of the battleground states you're going to go to, you're going to have heavy majorities being Mexican-American. From there, you get about 10% that are Puerto Rican, 5% or less who are Cuban. And then you have between say 6 and 8% who are Central American or some other mix. And that's at a national level. Once you get down at a state level, Florida is a big difference. Florida is about 30% Cuban, about 30% Puerto Rican. And then the other 40% is a mix of 18 different national origin groups.
That's very different from the national picture, even though you increasingly have pockets of Puerto Rican, Cuban, Venezuelan voters in other centers, especially urban centers. But that's just one element. I mean, you're also looking at the difference between, on one end of the spectrum, people who are immigrants, people who are more recently arrived or their children. To the other end, people who, like many New Mexican Hispanics, would say, "We didn't cross the border. The border crossed us." And they are still Hispanic, but their experience is not one of being immigrants. You have differences between urban and rural, but any way you want to kind of cut it and you have generations in multiple perspectives.
We like to say Latinos are not a monolith, obviously not a monolith, but we've recently had to add the clause, but still a group, there is still something common to people who identify as Hispanic. And so you can take someone whose day-to-day experience actually seems fairly far removed from a Latino experience, they don't live in a particular Latino area, maybe they don't speak Spanish, and yet if they identify as being of Latino origin, they are still different enough from their neighbors. It is still coloring their experience of American politics enough to study them as Latino.
Sudbay: Really interesting. So Equis released its 2022 post-mortem last month and it was titled “Latino Voters and the Case of the Missing Red Wave.” Give us a summary of some of the key conclusions you and your colleagues reached.
Odio: Sure. So starting election night, we were kind of deep in on precinct data, we started looking at all the polling we had done pre-election. Eventually we matched that to the voter file so we could see the people who voted; we go back and see what they had told us before the election. We did a post-mortem battleground survey as soon after the election as we could so we could get fresh insights from what people told us they had done in the election and we gather all the data we could. And as you all will recall leading into the midterms, there was a lot of uncertainty about where Latino voters would end up; you had a big shift from 2016 to 2020, big shift in the context of a very hyperpolarized American electorate where you don't see big shifts where if three in 10 Latinos had supported Trump in 2016, it was closer to four in 10 in 2020. And so the question is, well, is that part of a trend? Will that continue? Will it rebound? Will it stay the same?
And there were all the reasons in the broader electorate there were questions of uncertainty, first midterm of new Democratic president, kind of tough economic fundamentals, tough Biden approvals. It's a question of, okay, was this the beginning of a larger realignment among Latino voters? And at the end of the day what you ended up seeing was essentially stability from 2020. You had the Catalist crew on, I think a few weeks ago, Michael Frees and Hillary Anderson; their report showed this very compellingly that in the hotly contested battleground states Latino support for Democrats was about what it had been in 2020. You did not see further decline. Now you didn't see a rebound to pre-2020 levels, you didn't see rebounds to ‘16 or ‘18 levels. But you saw that essentially Republicans had not made additional gains beyond what Trump had gotten in 2020.
The one exception being Florida, where you did have the latest in a series of kind of precipitous declines in Democratic support. And so what we did in the report was try to explain specifically that stability, what are the elements that led to essentially a stay in support levels for Democrats? And what was then different in Florida?
Nir: So yeah, Carlos, let's drill down into Florida because obviously on what was otherwise a shockingly good night for Democrats, Florida was the big black mark in 2022. And, of course, everyone would love to find some silver bullet or some perfect plan to turn things around there. At the same time, was 2022 just a huge outlier with DeSantis winning by 20 in a state that had normally been pretty swingy? What do you think has gone wrong for Democrats there? And what can they do to turn it around?
Odio: Great question. In my home state of Florida, and I'm talking to you from Miami right now, you really can't study in a vacuum. You can't just say, well, Florida's weird and we're just going to totally write it off. And at the same time-
Nir: I wish we could, but… Sorry, no offense to your home state.
Odio: But well, at the same time, yeah, I mean it's important to understand what is unique and what's not. Whether you care about Florida — as I think people actually should care about Florida or whether what you care about is what's happening elsewhere — it's helpful to understand what is replicable and what is not. And there are elements that I think are very specific to the Florida experience, but there are other pieces that are not necessarily, and again you can't look at it in a vacuum compared to other states. But you also can't look at in the vacuum of just looking at cycle-specific factors and not going a little bit more back in time. Because we are talking about what has been another step down in Democratic support among Hispanics in the state.
2016 was a high mark for Democrats; Hillary Clinton gets high 60s likely among Latino voters. Two years later in 2018, that is in the high 50s. In 2020 that's in the low 50s. Catalist support had it at 51%, other exits, 53, 54, what have you. But you're in the low 50s, more or less. To 2022 where you're now Democrats are in the 40s. So Democrats are losing the Hispanic vote in Florida for the first time in 15 years, so it's a return to pre-Obama levels. And so you have to look at 2016 and what is it that was holding so many voters back from Donald Trump? And then what is it that allowed them to kind of move over? And you have the thing I think people don't put enough credit actually on the Trump side, which is that Trump actually ran a very aggressive campaign for the Latino vote. It was the most aggressive outreach to Latino voters in the modern era, more even so than George W. Bush in 2004, if only because Trump had social media to avail himself of.
And essentially Trump or his surrogates were camped out in Miami for four years in a way that was very one-sided. Democrats were not competing in the same manner. So you can look at factors and you can look at different segments of the vote that start moving, first it's Cubans who have been hesitant to support Trump, who come around to him. Then you have other tranches of Cuban voters, more recently arrived Cubans who in many ways looked like other immigrant Latinos where they’re one of the more progressive elements in the Cuban vote, had been the most Obama-supporting in 2012. And that over a process of being courted and a kind of perfect storm comes over to the Republican side and become one of the most pro-Trump elements. You then get breaking into the Colombian vote and the Venezuelan vote and other more recently arrived diaspora communities where you then see this much bigger swing.
And coming into the 2022 cycle, there was such strength for Republicans in the state of Florida that you have a little bit of a chicken and egg problem when you look at spending and investment in 2022, which is Democrats re-looked to the state and made a calculation that it wasn't worth the price tag given that you had what seemed like two strong incumbents, and so just Democrats move their money elsewhere.
And you get kind of the last piece, the last mile problem here where Democratic support collapses altogether across the electorate but with special resonance among Latino voters. So to your question, David, what if this is temporary? There is some of that that seems specific to the cycle, specific to DeSantis, specific to what he did during COVID and dynamics that were unleashed during COVID to the fact that there really was kind of an asymmetrical advantage for Republicans.
And there are other parts that are deeper that really are a greater realignment where Republicans are telling a culturally and emotionally resonant alternative narrative from what Democrats were and creating a different identity for certain diasporic communities in Florida, who are now true Republicans, have become hardcore and have bought it. That said, Florida's very volatile. And so you can never assume that what just happened is what's going to happen in the next election; it's all over the map. And I think for both parties that is presents both hope and opportunity and some danger that Florida's never going to stay what it just was, that's for sure.
Nir: So what is the hope and opportunity for Florida Democrats then? What would your prescription be for what ails them?
Odio: Well, I think there's probably always some hope in starting a new and getting back to basics. I think if you go back to the Obama elections, there was a great deal of optimism among Democrats of what that might bring, that it ushered in a new age. Again, maybe taking for granted that some of the recent trends were going to hold over a longer period of time, in Florida though, you point to elections like 2014, the first Rick Scott... I'm sorry, the Rick Scott reelect. 2018, where Rick Scott barely wins that Senate race, where Ron DeSantis ekes out the gubernatorial race. Those margins were so close that you could point to innumerable factors that would've produced a different outcome. And yeah, some of the fundamentals seem a little bit harder for Democrats in terms of more recent arrivals into the state; you have a lot more conservative retirees. Has that fundamentally changed the state? I think it's actually a little bit early to say. And so for Democrats, I think you have the win that they just pulled off at Jacksonville.
Nir: Oh yeah.
Odio: In the mayor's race, which I think may have been kind of the first signs of pushback to DeSantis Republican overreach in the state. You have some other local markers like the county mayor's race in Miami-Dade County that's coming up this next year. And the ability for them to build at a more local level. I think part of what has been ailing them is that there was a divide frankly between Democratic leadership and the voters we're talking about: swing Latino voters in the state of Florida. Some of that divide is cultural, symbolic. Some of it's physical; some of it's about having bodies in the places where these voters live. Hialeah is the example I always point to. Hialeah is the most Hispanic city in the state, it's where more working-class Cuban and other Hispanic immigrant populations end up. Hillary Clinton had won 50% of the vote in Hialeah in 2016. In this last election, Democrats won 22% of the vote in Hialeah.
And you could point to Democrats literally just not having physical presence in a place like Hialeah. And what I say is okay, yes, that seems bad for Democrats, but that's also an opportunity. It means what happens when you do show up? What happens when you do start building from the ground up and do what you know works?
Nir: We should also mention the special election that should happen in the 35th state House district in the Orlando area that Ron DeSantis has refused to call; this is a swingy seat held by a Republican. And one way to avoid losing a seat in a special election is to simply never call it. I wouldn't be surprised if we see a lawsuit there as well.
So Carlos, the central issue I think without question of the 2022 midterms was abortion and the Dobbs decision. And, obviously, there were many other issues of great importance, a lot of voters were extremely concerned about the state of our democracy. The economy was also front and center, but abortion really stood out in a particular way, especially in a way that it really hadn't before. And I'm really curious to know, obviously mindful of what you were saying at the top of the show about Latino voters not being a monolith, how abortion did play with the various Latino electorates across the country, and especially if it differed in any particularly meaningful way by state?
Odio: This is a great question, and it was interesting to me how there's a conventional wisdom in certain quarters that Latinos are somehow more socially conservative and maybe might be in a different place when it came to abortion rights than other members of the Democratic coalition. What's interesting to me about that is that it's not really been ever substantiated in the data. It is based on a lot of anecdata; it's based on the idea that Latinos are more Catholic, Catholics tend to be more pro-life. I think that kind of ignores the extent to which Latino Catholics actually tend to be one of the more liberal elements of the Catholic Church in the United States. And what we ended up seeing at the end of the day was not a backlash as I think some people suspect that they might have, but rather the Dobbs effect very much took hold among Latino voters and in fact bailed out Democrats among Latino voters in the hotly contested battleground states.
I mentioned earlier what our report looked at was the elements of stability in the hotly contested battleground states. And we looked at three factors, one of them was the issue environment. Now economic fundamentals should have benefited Republicans. In fact, what we saw in our post-mortem poll is the extent to which Republicans more trusted among Latino voters in the battlegrounds to handle inflation and the rising cost of living.
But they didn't capitalize on that; why not? When we looked at people's top issue and how they voted, the economy and cost of living voters did break heavily for Republicans, but they voted at lower rates and they were offset by the Dobbs voters. So voters who said that abortion was their top issue came out at rates above what we would've expected from them and broke heavily for Democrats. And so at the end of the day, the economy voters didn't vote; the Dobbs voters did. And Dobbs, in the context of these midterms helped Democrats keep those numbers steady and avoid further decline among Latino voters.
Sudbay: That's really so interesting. And again, Carlos, it kind of counters a conventional wisdom that exists. And I ran into this same issue on same-sex marriage where I was told Latinos were going to be strong opponents. And Gary Segura actually had researched that, and showed some of the strongest supporters of same-sex marriage were Latino Catholics because it was a family issue and they believed in family. And that was the case in my own family, my husband's family; my in-laws are Mexican immigrants. So this has been a fascinating conversation and one of the things, I think there's a big debate right now based on a lot of the things you've already mentioned, Carlos, about how Democrats can appeal to Latino voters moving forward. And based on the research you've done, what is your advice on that front? Again, knowing that it might be different state to state, but just your overall thoughts.
Odio: First, I think it's worth saying, Joe, why that matters. The coalition math for Democrats, 'cause I think we forget the extent to which there are very few places in this country where Democrats win white voters straight up. The way the math works is Democrats try to stop the bleeding among white voters and then hope there are enough Black and Latino voters and the support levels are high enough — and in some cases, API voters to make up the difference. It's the only way the math works. I think we sometimes forget that. I think if you were to break it down, at the end of the day, Democrats are successful because they do depend on what is astronomical, hard-to-sustain levels of support from especially Black voters and then, secondarily, Latino voters. So you can end up in a weird 50/50 dynamic where you're saying, "Okay, well, you're winning Latino voters, that's enough."
But actually there's a very big difference between winning 55% of Latino voters and 60% of Latino voters. So the question for Democrats is not just, are they winning Latino voters, but are they holding the kind of margins that they need to offset losses in other parts of the electorate? So how do they do that? How do they do that? I wish there was some very fancy answer. A lot of this is not, in fact, rocket science. So much of this is understanding, as we showed in our report, that while Republicans have made gains and have increased strength on certain dimensions on the economy, on who voters believe is better for American workers, on who shares religious values or is going to keep their families safe, you see divided numbers. But at the end of the day, the sense that Democrats care more about people like you, the Democrats are better for Hispanics, that Republicans prioritize the rich overworking people or people like you, that snapshot of both parties is very enduring.
It underlies Democratic partisanship, and the dial on Latino identity can go up or down like a volume dial as you might have. In 2016, it was at its highest, and so it crowded out other priorities. In 2020, actually that dial goes down a little bit and voters are voting on different dimensions like the economy. On the economy, you have actually a more even sense between both parties, especially coming out of COVID. So for Democrats, the question is, how do they shore up some of the weakness they might have on those economic dimensions? Because that's an anxiety that could become a weakness. We saw in Nevada this last year how Sen. Cortez Masto actually did this in real life, her and Democratic allies. While Republicans decided that they were going to make the campaign to Latino voters all about crime and crime-adjacent issues, which yes, Republicans were more trusted on crime, but that didn't mean it was their top priority.
Among the target audience for Spanish language communication, it was like 6% of voters said it was their top issue. Republicans hoped to make it more of an issue, but they couldn't because what CCM was doing on the other end was undercutting the Republican strength on the economy, was going after Laxalt on gas prices, on drug prices, on the votes Republicans had taken on Laxalt's ties to those industries and touting her own plans. So it was taken and understood that Democrats start from a place of strength of Latino voters and just need to shore up some of the weaker spots, because at the end of the day, all things equal, Democrats do break a little bit more to Democrats, but Democrats have to do the work. Republicans can take advantage when they feel like they're being taken for granted or when they feel like there are Republicans who better understand where they're coming from or the troubles and concerns that their families are experiencing. So that's the starting place.
Nir: Carlos, you mentioned something totally fascinating to me just now. You talked about this identity dial for Latinos. Can you say a little bit more about that and specifically, what factors do you think contribute to the dial turning up versus turning down from election to election?
Odio: Great question. My friend Kevin Collins at Survey 160 says that the biggest challenge for campaigns is to convince voters that your candidate cares about people like them and, importantly, to shape who the “people like them” is. Which identity are you trying to speak to? Which set of priorities are you trying to bring to the fore? Look, voters carry lots of different identities. Latino voters don't flatten themselves down to this one element. Like every other element voter in the electorate, they look at different elements. At the end of the day, though, people do ask themselves, "Who's going to look out for people like me?" Whether it's consciously “me as Hispanic,” it's certainly me, people like my family, people like my community.
When the "me" is defined as a group like Latinos, and it's defined as it was say, in the 2006-2007 immigration debates where all of a sudden the dynamic wasn't just about immigrants, it was about a sense that Republicans were hostile to minorities generally, to Latinos, to people who were not like them. That was a perception of the Republican Party that carried Democrats for about a decade. It culminates in 2016 when you have this Trump guy from the moment he comes down the escalator. People don't know him, people don't trust him, but the snapshot they have of him is, "Well, this is a guy who seems very much in the vein of other anti-immigrants, other racists who have come before him," and so that identity gets brought to the fore.
In 2020, I know we had talked a lot about immigration while Trump was president, but as you get it to the end of the election, Trump actually dials that down. Trump understood he had an opportunity among Latino voters, and so he wasn't emphasizing immigration in the same way. Instead, the temperature gets brought down on that, and we actually see it in the polling where voters say they're voting more in terms of the economy, in terms of COVID in terms of concerns that Biden would come in and lock down the economy again. Again, not among all Latino voters, among a small subset of swing voters. As I mentioned, there's about 8% of Latinos who swung from the Clinton side to the Trump side between those two elections, so it's enough to make a meaningful difference. You could see it in what the campaigns focus on, right? It's the signals that are going out to voters that kind of tell them, "What am I voting on? What is this election a referendum on?"
Sudbay: That's fascinating. So we're rolling into another election year — well, every year's an election year — but 2024 right before us. What are some of the key downballot races that you're watching that you think Latino voters will play a significant role in?
Odio: Great question because I think a lot of the conversation ends up being just about the presidential, and the presidential obviously sets the pace in many ways, but notably, there's been a lot of talk about the decline of ticket-splitting. It's true, there's less ticket splitting than there was once upon a time, and yet, it can still be meaningful for downballot candidates if you have a few points difference between top-of-ticket and a Senate candidate, a congressional candidate, a state lege candidate especially. So one thing that's true of all downballot campaigns is their focus shouldn't be on turnout. The presidential campaigns are where turnout really gets decided. For downballot campaigns, when it comes to Latino voters, it's all persuasion. It's all a persuasion game, because even some voters who look like Democrats, who respond like Democrats in those polls, can be persuaded on a case-by-case basis to vote for individual Republicans.
There's a lot of swing in the Latino vote. It doesn't look like swing in the sense of a pendulum that's constantly going back and forth; it defaults more to Democrats overall, but there's a willingness to support individual Republicans. So for downballot campaigns, that's an opportunity for both parties. Certainly a danger for Democrats who take for granted that a voter who's going to come out for Joe Biden is going to automatically stick around and vote for your Democrat in a local state legislative campaign. So that matters meaningfully, especially in places like Arizona and Nevada where there's big Senate races where you have meaningful congressional and state lege races as well, but it's not just the most Latino-dense states. These days, the way districts are drawn, almost by definition, if a district is more swingy, you are going to have a pocket of Latino or Black or API voters there in a meaningful manner.
I think this last battleground, a map that we had in 2022 was the most Latino house map that I've seen in a very long time as far as when you look at the Red to Blue and the Frontline districts. I think you're going to see a repeat in that regard, when you think of districts in Central Valley of California, when you look at the Gabe Vasquez seat that was just won in New Mexico in southern New Mexico, when you look at key districts in Texas, certainly a lot of interestingly rural Hispanic seats like Colorado 8, which is another defend for Democrats where you have meaningful Latino populations. In some cases you have Latino candidates as well, and then you have states where you have growing Latino populations that in close elections can be especially meaningful. I think that's true. Pennsylvania is going to get a lot of attention, certainly from us as we study the map this go-round.
Sudbay: That's great. Thank you. It just shows again the importance of this Latino electorate and the work you're doing.
Nir: I love bringing down this very high-level conversation directly to “The Downballot” because, of course, that is what we are all about. We have been talking with Carlos Odio, the co-founder of EquisLabs. Carlos, where can our listeners find out more about your work and follow what you guys do?
Odio: Sure. We just released our 2022 post-mortem, all 135 slides of it. You can get that on our website, equisresearch.us. Equis is E-Q-U-I-S research.us. You can follow me on Twitter @carlosodio. Some of my other colleagues are on there as well. We're on Medium posting a bunch of our reports there all the time, and there's a lot more to come.
Nir: Great. Well, we will also include a link to the post-mortem in the show notes. Carlos, thank you for joining us on “The Downballot” this week.
Odio: Thanks for having me on. We could do this all day.
Nir: That's all from us this week. Thanks to Carlos Odio for joining us. "The Downballot" comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If you haven't already, please subscribe to “The Downballot” on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our producer, Walter Einenkel, and editor, Trevor Jones. We'll be back next week with a new episode.