Colorado Republicans have touted their Hispanic and Latino outreach since early summer, knowing even small gains among those voters could swing close elections this summer.
In particular, the party sees an opportunity in the economic malaise felt by many — and a new poll shows it to be a top priority for the Hispanic and Latino voters.
Latinos make up about 20% of the electorate in the state. In 2018, they voted for Democrats by a nearly 3-to-1 ratio. Republicans wouldn’t need to chip too deep into that advantage to pay dividends.
“Although the 2022 survey suggests that it will be challenging for Republican candidates to improve substantially on their 2018 and 2020 Latino vote share numbers given the policy view of the Latino community, if they could get the Democratic vote share down to 65% or 60% it could be a game changer,” Gabriel Sanchez, a University of New Mexico political science professor who led the poll for BSP Research, said.
Those voters are continuing to struggle economically — and, Sanchez predicted, economic concerns could be a driving factor in Hispanic and Latino voters casting ballots. However, Democrats aren’t sitting out the election, either, or ignoring Hispanic and Latino-heavy districts. Both hope to make their case for why their vision will lift up Coloradans.
The results of the poll come as a Consumer Price Index report showed inflation continues to soar. The report, released Tuesday, shows prices for all goods were up 8.3% in August compared to the same time last year. The price of food, in particular, stood out — it rose 11.4% year-over-year, the largest 12-month increase since May 1979, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It also follows another poll that found inflation and the economy the top issues for Coloradans.
The poll was commissioned by the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), COLOR Action Fund, Voces Unidas de las Montañas, and Voces Unidas Action Fund. It surveyed 1,504 Latino registered voters between July 5 and Aug. 5 and oversampled rural areas to better understand those concerns. It has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 2.5 percentage points. It was designed to gauge those voters concerns and policy preferences, however, not a traditional political preference poll.
Other specific findings highlighted by backers of the poll: Half of Colorado Latinos feel their personal economic situation has worsened over the past year; a third said they quit their job in the past year due to poor working conditions, and nearly a quarter said their workloads or hours increased without a corresponding raise or promotion.
The threat of mass shootings also hangs heavy over Hispanic and Latino Coloradans — 83% worry their child might fall victim to such a tragedy.
Pueblo’s senate district has the most Hispanic voters of any this year. It might also swing party control
When political rivals Stephen Varela and Nick Hinrichsen are out talking to voters in their Pueblo senate district, they hear variations on the same theme: We’re concerned about our economic fortunes and futures, and what will they do about it?
They’re each running to represent Senate District 3, where 42% of voters identify as Hispanic or Latino — the most of any district up for election this year. The district officially has a 5 percentage point tilt toward Democrats over the past several elections, but it’s widely viewed as a toss-up. It’s also one of four senate seats Republicans will need to flip to gain control of the chamber.
In 2016, the district voted for Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet by 10 percentage points, while also giving Republican President Donald Trump a slight edge. In 2020, the district’s voters picked Democrat John Hickenlooper by less than 1 percentage point over Republican incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner.
“If (voters aren’t) talking about crime and safety, they’re talking about economics,” Varela, the Republican nominee, said. “And in Pueblo, they’re talking about economic diversity, and inflation and they’re talking about the American dream.”
People worry about their economic stability, and their future and their kids’ future, Varela said — all points echoed by Hinrichsen, a Democrat who hopes voters will send him back to the Capitol. Hinrichsen, who is not Hispanic, won his seat through a vacancy committee earlier this year.
“The overall arc of it is working families have been left behind by the modern global economy,” Hinrichsen said of his conversations with voters. “Opportunities, where they exist, are fleeting and short-term. They want a clear, sustainable path to middle-class sustainability. That’s what I’m talking about with every policy.”
Varela is Hispanic and an ex-Democrat. He said that party left him behind, a point he’s hoping to make across the district. Hispanic voters want representation at the capitol, he said, both in ethnicity and beliefs. It’s not as easy as party affiliation.
“Our vote as Hispanics crosses the aisles because we vote for the right person,” Varela said.
Henrichsen and Varela, as well as their party’s leadership, are banking on their economic messages resonating with Hispanic and Latino voters as well as the broader population.
State Sen. Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican who is leading his party’s charge to take back the Senate, said the concerns highlighted by Hispanic Coloradans in the poll — inflation, income, affordable housing and the economy — are reflected across demographic lines. He expects the Republican message of less government interference in the economy and more energy production, resulting in lower prices, will resonate with all who share those concerns.
“It’s an all Coloradans thing,” Lundeen said. “It doesn’t surprise me that when you start looking at those cross tabs, all working people of Colorado, regardless of demographic status, are feeling the pain right now. Government interference and inflation are interfering with people’s ability to have the life they’d like to have.”
State Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat who’s part of the legislature’s Latino caucus and leading his party’s effort to keep the majority is banking on his party’s accomplishments as proof of their commitment to Latino and Hispanic Coloradans’ economic concerns, as well as other voters.
He points to things like Democrats’ championing the temporary rework of taxpayer refunds to deliver equal refunds, quicker, to residents as an example. Hinrichsen sponsored that bill, along with another to postpone a gas tax increase scheduled in previous Democratic legislation to fund transportation. Republicans have panned both moves as election-year pandering.
“The Latino community is aligned with Democrats in that the wealthiest folks have more to give, and should have more of a tax liability,” Moreno said. “And we’re going to continue to build on the work that we’ve already done to ensure we have tax fairness.”
He noted that the poll found a majority of respondents, 55%, don’t think the wealthiest Coloradans pay their fair share of taxes.
Outreach is key
Both parties are courting Hispanic and Latino voters through Spanish language ads and specific outreach efforts. The Republican Party in general has touted its efforts in the 7th and 8th Congressional districts, hoping to persuade enough voters to support their cause, or at least against ongoing Democratic control of Congress, to put the seats in their column.
“When we think about Latinos and their engagement, often the conversation is, why don’t they turn out at higher rates?” Sanchez said. “The reality is, why aren’t they contacted and mobilized at higher rates, which is how most Americans get engaged in the political system to begin with?”
Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they are certain they would vote in the November election, with another 17% saying they will probably vote.
Those surveyed identify as more Democratic than the state as a whole, with 47% saying they think of themselves as Democrats to about 28% of total active voter registrations. Seventeen percent said they think of themselves as Republicans, versus 25% of all active voters, and 28% of respondents think of themselves as independent or unaffiliated voters. Unaffiliated voters easily make up the largest voting bloc in the state, at 45% of registered voters.
Engaging with voters is particularly important when economic issues loom so threateningly, progressive political consultant Alvina Vasquez said. She is not affiliated with the poll or any particular campaigns this cycle, though she previously worked on Gov. Jared Polis’ 2018 campaign.
“If you’re deciding to pay your phone bill or your groceries or your medicine, and you get a ballot in the mail in between bills, campaigns have to convince voters that their vote matters,” Vasquez said.
But when engagement turns into political will, it can have transformative effects, she said. Vasquez highlighted the work done by the Colorado Democratic Latino Caucus, whose members have led efforts on air quality, criminal justice, and behavioral and physical health, while serving in some of the highest profile positions in the state legislature.
“It’s not just about politicians,” Vasquez said of the influence the Latino electorate can have. “It’s about school bond measures, it’s about how TABOR works. It connects to all of these issues beyond just political leaders.”
Pollsters were talking to voters from July 5 until Aug. 5, so before the traditional Labor Day start of heavy campaigning. Most of the respondents, 58%, said no political or policy organization or candidate had contacted them by that point — except when broken down by party lines. While Latino and Hispanic voters who identify as Republican were a minority of respondents, at 17%, most said they’d been contacted by a candidate or political organization.
A plurality of respondents, 47%, identified as Democrats. Most of those voters, 60% said they hadn’t heard from any political organization. Independent voters, 28% of the total, were even more in the dark: 65% said they hadn’t been contacted at all.
Pro-abortion rights stances may tip the Latino vote in Colorado
While economic conditions dominate individual concerns, abortion access hangs over state elections — particularly federal races.
“Protecting women’s reproductive health/abortion rights” ranked as the 8th most important issue facing the Hispanic and Latino community, at 22%, that respondents would like Congress to address, according to the survey. “Limiting or banning abortion” was the lowest ranked priority, at 7%.
A candidate’s position on abortion could also tilt how Hispanic and Latino Coloradans fill out their ballot. A candidate who wants to expand abortion and reproductive health access would make 61% of respondents more likely to vote for that candidate, versus 16% who said they’d be less likely to. A similar percentage also would support Medicaid dollars to pay for abortion.
More than two-thirds of respondents, 69%, said they agree that, while they may have their own views on abortion, they trust Coloradans to make their own decisions — without politicians interfering.
“This poll shows us what we’ve known for a long time: that our community values the freedom to decide and determine their own futures,” Dusti Gurule, president and CEO of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, said.
Moreno, the senate Democrat, says that bodes well for his party. State Democrats overcame universal Republican opposition to codifying the right to an abortion in state law this year — clearly delivering on what is both a party priority and belief held by Hispanic and Latino Coloradans.
Lundeen, meanwhile, said that’s an issue more important to politicians than voters, and a backseat to economics, education and safety.
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