One major storyline coming out of the 2020 election was the rightward shift of Latino voters, who supported former President Donald Trump at a higher rate than they had four years earlier. Although about 3 in 5 Latinos voted for President Joe Biden, this still represented a decline in Democratic support from 2016, when around 2 in 3 backed Hillary Clinton. With November fast approaching, the outcomes in a number of races in the 2022 midterms could hinge on whether Democrats continue to lose ground among Latino voters. 

Nowhere is this more true than in Arizona and Nevada, two states with large Latino populations and highly competitive races for U.S. Senate and governor. Exit polls from 2020 and other survey data suggest Latinos will make up about 20 percent of the 2022 electorate in both states. It’s important to remember that Latino voters aren’t a single voting bloc, as they have diverse views and backgrounds. Still, they will help decide control of the Senate and key swing-state governorships, and recent polls provide mixed signals about how blue or red these voters might broadly go.

In early September, Emerson College looked at the Senate and governor races in both states, finding extremely tight races across the board among likely voters. In Arizona, Emerson found Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly ahead of Republican Blake Masters by only 2 percentage points, 47 percent to 45 percent, while Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Republican Kari Lake were tied at 46 percent in the governor’s contest. In Nevada, the pollster’s survey, sponsored by KLAS-TV and The Hill, found Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto trailing former Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt by 1 point, 42 percent to 41 percent, while Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and Republican Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo were knotted up at 40 percent.

In all races, however, the Democratic nominee led among Latino voters: Kelly held an 11-point edge and Hobbs a 12-point advantage, while Cortez Masto led by 19 points and Sisolak by 16 points. Now, like most surveys, the sample sizes for Latinos in Emerson’s polls weren’t very big, meaning those data points have a larger margin of error. Nevertheless, they do provide some much-needed information about what’s going on among Latino voters in these two key states. And considering the tight overall margins, the data also shows how reduced Democratic support among Latinos could make or break their chances.

Emerson’s findings suggest Democrats are in a worse position among Latinos now than in 2020. Back then, Biden carried 61 percent of Latino voters in both Arizona and Nevada, according to the 2020 exit polls. Exit polls are imperfect measures, but they also found that Kelly won among Latinos 65 percent to 35 percent in his narrow 2020 special election victory. By comparison, Emerson’s poll gave Kelly an advantage among Latinos of 53 percent to 41 percent — a far smaller advantage than he enjoyed in 2020. The Nevada poll gave Democrats a larger lead in terms of margin but also put Cortez Masto and Sisolak’s overall support among Latinos in the mid-40s, with a large share of undecideds. If those undecideds mostly split evenly, the Democrats would perform at a similar level to what the 2020 exit polls found, but that’s impossible to say at this point.

You should never take one poll as gospel, and other recent surveys have found Democrats performing somewhat better among Latinos. A mid-August survey of Arizona by Beacon Research/Shaw & Company Research for Fox News found Kelly with an overall lead of 8 points among registered voters, and Hobbs a 3-point lead. Among Latinos, Hobbs led by 9 points — similar to Emerson’s finding — but Kelly held a 20-point advantage, 53 percent to 33 percent. Although the Fox News poll had a higher share of undecided Latino voters than the Emerson survey, Kelly’s lead was not far from the sort of margin Biden enjoyed in 2020 (though still an underperformance relative to Kelly’s own 2020 margin). 

In Nevada, a mid-August poll from Suffolk University/Reno Gazette-Journal gave Cortez Masto a 7-point lead overall among likely voters, 45 percent to 38 percent, and Sisolak a 3-point advantage, 43 percent to 40 percent. They each led among Latinos, with Cortez Masto leading 48 percent to 30 percent and Sisolak 47 percent to 31 percent. That lead, with a smaller share of undecideds, was comparatively stronger than the Democrats’ leads in Emerson’s survey.

Although we don’t have data for Latino voters from every poll of these races, these Democratic candidates’ overall electoral situations are currently at least a little favorable — if far from certain. Kelly holds an 8-point lead in FiveThirtyEight’s polling average,1 and the FiveThirtyEight 2022 midterm election forecast views Kelly as a favorite, while Hobbs holds a slimmer 3-point advantage in Arizona’s toss-up governor’s race. In Nevada, Cortez Masto has a 3-point edge and Sisolak a 2-point lead, and our forecast makes each of them a slight favorite

But the economy remains an opportunity for Republicans to make inroads with Latino voters. In Emerson’s polls of Arizona and Nevada, a sizable plurality of likely voters named the economy as the most important issue for their vote (36 percent in Arizona, 42 percent in Nevada), including a plurality of Latino voters. Among all voters who cited the economy (so not just Latinos), the Republican candidates garnered 62 to 67 percent of the vote. And while it’s a national poll, the survey released last week by Siena College/New York Times also found that registered Latino voters were split about which party they agreed with more on economic issues.

But the second-most-cited issue in Emerson’s Arizona and Nevada polls was abortion access (16 percent in Arizona, 18 percent in Nevada), and voters who identified it as the key issue in determining their vote almost uniformly backed the Democratic candidates. Abortion is an important issue for Latinos, too, and a recent national poll from BSP Research/UnidosUS/Mi Familia Vota found 59 percent of Latino voters thought Democrats would do a better job addressing abortion, compared with only 11 percent who thought Republicans would.

That tension between economic concerns and abortion rights may be especially pivotal for Latino voters because a large number of them are persuadable voters. That’s because many lack strong ties to the two major political parties, often because they are first-generation Americans or had first-generation parents who weren’t as politically engaged and didn’t pass along their partisan views. In a 2020 postmortem, Latino-focused Equis Research found that approval for Trump’s economic policies was a pivotal reason for Republican gains among Latino voters. But it’s possible that the headwinds of abortion politics could hinder Republicans from building on that improvement, as 61 percent of Latino respondents told Siena College/New York Times that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

So while the polling in Arizona and Nevada suggests Democrats could be in a weaker position in 2022 among Latinos than they were in 2020, abortion does seem to have fired up the Democratic base and potentially turned off some persuadable voters — many of whom are Latinos — from the GOP. We anxiously await more polling to get a better idea of just how Latino voters are trending in Arizona, Nevada and elsewhere.