With the mid-term elections in full swing, political pundits are highlighting the critical role Hispanic voters are likely to play, and for good reason.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) predicts that Hispanics will constitute 1 in 10 voters nationwide, with higher proportions in some key battlefield states: approximately 1 in 5 voters in Arizona and Florida and 1 voter out of 6 in Nevada. These levels would replicate the historic turnout of Latin voters in the 2018 mid-term elections, representing a 71% increase over 2014 turnout levels.
Understanding the public policy views of Latin voters should therefore be a top priority for observers seeking to make sense of the mid-term terms of 2022. And health care is an issue that is at the heart of Hispanic voters. According to a large UnidosUS poll among Latin voters:
- More than 9 out of 10 Hispanic voters believe the government should make sure everyone can afford health care.
- 85% want to see the pandemic’s health coverage expansions made permanent.
- Of the majority of Latin voters who see rising cost of living as the main problem, nearly half specifically mention health care costs as an issue that deserves the attention of elected officials.
Nearly 3,000 Latino voters responded to the poll, which identified health care as the issue where Democrats enjoyed their greatest advantage over Republicans: 52% of Latin voters described Democrats as sharing their values and priority on health care, compared to only 18% who said this about Republicans.
Health care has been a major public policy concern of Latin voters for more than a decade, and their views on parties have likely been shaped by debates about very public health care in recent years. Democrats visibly supported the Affordable Care Act, which brought health care to more than 5 million previously uninsured Latinos, reducing the number of Latin Americans without health coverage from 15.5 million in 2010 to 10.2 million in 2016. Immediately thereafter, Republicans were equally visible in the quest for the repeal of the ACA, which would have stolen health care from more than 5 million Latin Americans.
The overwhelming support of Hispanic voters for health care should give the issue a high profile for parties and candidates seeking Latino support. However, partisan political differences have remained stark since the failed attempt to repeal the ACA. Last summer, Democrats passed a law to cut prescription drug prices in Medicare. Unfortunately, all Republicans voted against the legislation, despite the extraordinarily strong support of politics among Latin voters. According to NALEO’s most recent monitoring survey, a staggering 88% of Latin voters support the fact that Medicare can negotiate lower prices on prescription drugs, including 51% who strongly support the policy. No other issues covered by the survey got this level of support.
That same summer, the legislation also prevented a 53% increase in premium costs for people buying their own insurance in the ACA market, which now serves some 2.6 million Latin Americans. Not a single Republican voted to protect working families from this huge cost increase, although numerous Republican lawmakers were seeking re-election based on the rising cost of living.
Hispanic voters send a message to both sides. Democrats cannot win value-aligned Latin voters on the basis of health policy differences that the party has not communicated effectively. Among voters in general, only a small minority are aware of the legislation that has reduced the costs of Medicare prescription drugs. And as of October 9, less than a month before the midterm, Democrats had 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 substantially undermine Latins’ future openness to the Republican vote. Recent days have seen Republicans come up with proposals deeply at odds with the health values of Latin voters, seeking major cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and using the savings to extend President Trump’s tax cuts for the rich and the big. society.
The political power of the Hispanic communities is significant and destined to grow. Both sides understand the need for Latin support, but neither side seems to prioritize health care to reach Latin voters. Regardless of how mid-term deadlines turn out, political leaders interested in gaining the support of their Hispanic constituents should focus intensely on maintaining and strengthening programs like Medicaid and market coverage that offer affordable healthcare to the tens of millions. of troubled families in America.
Stan Dorn is director of the UnidosUs Health Policy Project.