With the midterm elections in full swing, political pundits are highlighting the key role Hispanic voters are likely to play — and for good reason.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) projects that Hispanics will make up 1 in 10 voters nationally, with higher proportions in some key battleground states — roughly 1 in 5 voters in Arizona and Florida and 1 to 6 voters in Nevada. Those levels would replicate historic Hispanic voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections, a 71 percent increase over 2014 turnout levels.
Therefore, understanding Latino voters’ views on public policy should be a top priority for observers trying to make sense of the 2022 midterm elections. And health care is an issue that is on the minds of Hispanic voters. According to a broad UnidosUS survey of Latino voters:
- More than 9 in 10 Hispanic voters think the government should make sure everyone can afford health care.
- 85 percent want to make pandemic health coverage expansion permanent.
- Among the majority of Hispanic voters who rank the rising cost of living as a top issue, nearly half specifically mention health care costs as an issue deserving of elected officials’ attention.
Nearly 3,000 Hispanic voters responded to the survey, which identified health care as the issue where Democrats enjoy their biggest advantage over Republicans: 52 percent of Hispanic voters described Democrats as sharing their values and priorities on health care, compared with only 18 percent who said this about Republicans.
Health care has been among the top issues of Latino voters for more than a decade, and their views of the parties have likely been shaped by public health debates in recent years. Democrats visibly supported the Affordable Care Act, which provided health care to more than 5 million previously uninsured Hispanics, reducing the number of Hispanics without health coverage from 15.5 million in 2010 to 10.2 million in 2016 Soon after, Republicans were just as visible in seeking to repeal the ACA, which would have taken away health care from more than 5 million Latinos.
Hispanic voters’ overwhelming support for health care should give the issue high profile for parties and candidates seeking Latino support. However, differences in party politics remain sharp after the failed attempt to repeal the ACA. Last summer, Democrats passed legislation to lower Medicare prescription drug prices. Unfortunately, all Republicans voted against the legislation, despite remarkably strong support for the policy among Hispanic voters. According to NALEO’s latest tracking poll, an astounding 88 percent of Hispanic voters support allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices, including 51 percent who strongly support the policy. No other issue covered by the survey garnered this level of support.
That same summer, the legislation also prevented a 53 percent increase in premium costs for people who buy their own insurance in the ACA marketplace, which now serves about 2.6 million Latinos. Not a single Republican voted to protect working families from this huge cost increase, even though many Republican lawmakers sought re-election based on the rising cost of living.
Hispanic voters are sending a message to both parties. Democrats cannot win over values-oriented Latinos based on health policy differences that the party has not effectively communicated. Among voters overall, only a small minority knew about the legislation that reduced Medicare prescription drug spending. And as of Oct. 9, less than a month before the midterm elections, Democrats have contacted less than half of Hispanic voters, even though two-thirds of Hispanic voters plan to vote before Election Day.
For Republicans, continued attacks on American health care could significantly undermine Latinos’ future openness to voting Republican. In recent days, we’ve seen Republicans introduce proposals deeply at odds with Latino voters’ health care values, seeking major cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and using the savings to extend President Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations.
The political power of Latin American communities is significant and likely to grow. Both parties understand the need for Latino support, but neither seems to prioritize health care in reaching Latino voters. Regardless of how the midterms play out, political leaders interested in winning the support of their Hispanic voters must focus intensely on maintaining and strengthening programs like Medicaid and marketplace coverage that offer affordable health care to tens of millions of struggling families in America .
Stan Dorn is director of the Health Policy Project at UnidosUs.