Both the House and Senate are very closely divided. The Democrats have at best a nominal majority in the Senate, and a real, though tenuous, majority in the House. With each Chamber up for grabs in the next election, even subtle shifts in public opinion will dictate the fate of legislation as incumbents seek to woo—or at least not alienate—persuadable voters. Among these persuadable voters are a large number of Hispanic Americans, who voted more heavily for Republicans than in previous elections—a trend the GOP has naturally cheered. In reality, however, both parties need to pay careful attention to whether their policies resonate with Hispanic constituents since research from public opinion firm The Winston Group suggests that large swathes of the demographic are more like political independents than partisans.

On one level, Hispanic Americans tend to favor Democrats, if party identification alone is considered. Even after the 2020 election, a plurality of Hispanics, 48 percent, identified as Democrats. Another 20 percent were Republicans. But just under a third, however, 32 percent described themselves as independents.  In other words, most Hispanic voters are not Democrats. 

Political ideology, however, is distinct from partisan affiliation, and Hispanic Americans are even more ideologically diverse than their partisan labels might suggest. Only 25 percent describe themselves as “liberal.” Thirty-two (32) percent describe themselves as “conservative” (which is to say, more Hispanics identify as “conservative” than identify as Republicans). A full 43 percent, the plurality, apply the term “moderate” to themselves. By contrast, 46 percent of Democrats describe themselves as “liberal,” which is nearly double (1.84 times to be exact) the percentage of Hispanics that describe themselves in the same way. “From an ideological identification standpoint, Hispanics are behaving much closer to independents than Democrats,” conclude the Winston Group.

As with political ideology, Hispanic Americans demonstrate a moderate streak when they assess the relative political ideologies of the parties in Congress. Just after the 2020 election, the Winston Group asked voters to rank themselves, congressional Republicans, and congressional Democrats on a scale of one through nine, with one being liberal, nine being conservative, and five being right in the center.  A few months into the 117th Congress and President Biden’s Administration, Hispanics rated themselves as 5.35, meaning they think of themselves as slightly right of center.  Hispanics rated Democrats as 4.69 and Republicans at 6.07.  The distance between Hispanics and Democrats was 0.66, whereas the gap between Hispanics and Republicans was 0.72. Even since the 2020 elections, Hispanic Americans continued to reevaluate their relative proximity to the two parties, making competition for their support even more vigorous.  While the percentages are important to statistical analysis, when it comes to political ideology, the simple fact is that Hispanic voters place themselves pretty much right in between Democrats and Republicans.

As each party competes for the support of the Hispanic population in the United States, they will need to put forth a legislative agenda that appeals to them. Here, if both parties simply cater to their bases, they will very likely fail to address Hispanic concerns. Winston Group research suggests Hispanics tend to rank the issues that matter most to them somewhat differently from those of either political party. Rather, they are more in line with independents. Following the 2020 elections, the Winston Group asked voters to rate the importance of several issues on a scale of one to nine, with nine being the most important. They then found the average rating of the level of importance for each issue for distinct groups. The top seven issues for Republicans, Democrats, independents and Hispanics are given below.

Issue rankingRepublicansDemocratsIndependentsHispanics
1The economy and jobsCoronavirusThe economy and jobsCoronavirus
2Immigration and situation at the borderAffordable Care Act/health care coverage of pre-existing conditionsCoronavirusThe economy and jobs
3Free speechThe economy and jobsState of scientific discovery and innovation, including status of a vaccine or a cure for coronavirusImmigration and situation at the border
4Possible new tax rate increasesState of scientific discovery and innovation, including status of a vaccine or a cure for coronavirusFree speechState of scientific discovery and innovation, including status of a vaccine or a cure for coronavirus
5Foreign policy/terrorism/ Iran/North Korea/situation in the Middle EastRace relationsAffordable Care Act/health care coverage of pre-existing conditionsIssues related to police
6Protests in cities across the countryClimate ChangeIssues related to the policeAffordable Care Act/health care coverage of pre-existing conditions
7Supreme Court confirmation of Amy Coney BarrettFree speechImmigration and the situation at the borderFree speech

The list of top seven issues of concern for Hispanics more closely resembled the list of independents’ top seven issues than it did the Republicans’ or Democrats’ lists. The top seven issues for Hispanics and Independents were the same, even if each group ranked the relative importance of the issues differently. By contrast, only five of the Democrats’ top seven concerns matched Hispanics’ top seven. Republicans fared the worst, sharing only three out of Hispanic voters’ top seven concerns. That the Republicans did not fare as well as the Democrats did is not entirely surprising, considering a greater share of the Hispanic population identifies with the Democrats than with the GOP. But their greater affinity for the independents’ issue rankings nonetheless indicates some underlying differences between Hispanic voters considered as a group and Democratic voters considered as a group. Neither party’s base concerns align neatly with Hispanic voters’ concerns.

As Democratic data scientist David Shor noted following the better-than-expected Hispanic support for Republicans in 2020:

… since white voters are sorting on ideology more than nonwhite voters, we’ve ended up in a situation where white liberals are more left wing than Black and Hispanic Democrats on pretty much every issue: taxes, health care, policing, and even on racial issues or various measures of “racial resentment.” So as white liberals increasingly define the party’s image and messaging, that’s going to turn off nonwhite conservative Democrats and push them against us.

David Shor on Why Trump Was Good for the GOP and How Dems Can Win in 2022,” New York Magazine, March 3, 2021

The lesson seems to be that Americans, no matter their background, will support legislation that addresses their hopes for the future and their concerns about the present.  Producing legislation that addresses the needs and concerns for Hispanic Americans is, perhaps, the best way for either party to secure their long-term support. When doing so, Members of Congress should not simply craft an agenda that appeals to their party’s base, but one that is broadly appealing to all Americans. Hispanic voters have demonstrated that they are not necessarily seeking the agendas of either party but a more independent vision for the American future.

For the full Winston Group memo, click here.

Mark Strand is the President of the Congressional Institute and Timothy Lang is the research director. The Sausage Factory blog is a Congressional Institute project dedicated to explaining parliamentary procedure, Congressional politics, and other issues pertaining to the Legislative Branch.