John Cole, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
December 20, 2023
Despite the emphasis in Congress on border security and immigration, a survey of Latino voters in Pennsylvania found that the cost of living, health care, and crime are the issues of greatest concern.
Latino civil rights and advocacy organization UnidosUS, and Mi Familia Vota, a national civic engagement organization, surveyed 3,037 eligible Latino voters in eight battleground states. In Pennsylvania, they surveyed 300 eligible Latino voters. The poll was conducted by BSP Research from Nov 2 – 13.
Those surveyed were asked to rank the issues they viewed as most important from a list of 17 issues. Jobs and the economy led the way, at 49%, followed by inflation/rising cost of living a close second at 48%, health care in third place with 37%, followed by crime/gun violence at 31%, and lack of affordable housing/high rents rounding out the top 5 with 25%.
Immigration and the border came in seventh among the issues of importance for the Latino voters surveyed.
“Latinos are being pretty clear in their policy priorities, much of which can be summed up around their concerns around cost of living,” Rafael Collazo, political director, UnidosUS said during a briefing of the polling data.
State Rep. Manuel Guzman (D-Berks), Vice Chair of the Pennsylvania Legislative Latino Caucus, said in an interview with the Capital-Star that he believes that the polling is proof that “Latino issues are everyday American issues.”
Although Democrats are the favored party for the Latino voters’ top issue, there is a sizable disparity between those 18-39 years old and voters 40 years and older. Younger voters are less likely to believe a Democrat would be better at addressing their top issue, the survey found.
On immigration issues, 56% of those polled believe that providing a path to citizenship for long U.S.-residing undocumented immigrants is the most important issue facing elected officials, while 55% say providing a path to citizenship for undocumented individuals brought to the US as children is the most important.
Only 23% polled believe that elected officials should increase border security as their top immigration related concern, while 16% support finishing the wall along the US-Mexico border as their top immigration issue.
Although only 12% surveyed viewed abortion as their top issue, a majority of Latino voters polled support abortion rights.
The survey found that younger Latino voters in Pennsylvania – those under 40 – are less likely to believe the Democratic Party cares about them. Guzman believes that young voters at-large are dissatisfied with elected officials, not just young Latino voters.
“I think overall, if you look at the landscape, not just in the Commonwealth, but across the country, young people just feel disaffected with government, they feel disconnected with government,” Guzman said.
Guzman added that a lack of representation among elected officials is also contributing to younger Latinos’ dissatisfaction with government.
“I’m the only one in my demographic right in the house in the House of Representatives out of 1.7 million Latinos,” Guzman, 35, told the Capital-Star.
Collazo said younger Latino voters are increasingly identifying as independent, “so there’s definitely a lot of work to be done by both parties, whether they align with the values of those voters or not to establish a relationship through what we believe needs to be authentic and substantial engagement with our community.”
State Rep. Danilo Burgos (D-Philadelphia), Chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Latino Caucus, is the first Dominican elected to serve in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
He said that it’s important for elected officials to speak with Latino voters, not at them, to show that they care.
“Politics in Latin America is very hands on,” Burgos said in an interview with the Capital-Star. “It’s not just people talking on TV, or in political shows, and given their opinions. It’s actually going out into communities saying hello to people, motivating grassroots, motivating communities from the bottom up, and not from the top down.”
For Republicans in Pennsylvania, the numbers are much worse, the survey found. Just 20% of Latino voters in Pennsylvania believe that the Republican Party cares a great deal about the Latino community.
Among those surveyed, President Joe Biden has a 55% approval rating.
However, there is a notable gap between younger and older voters. Of those 40 and older, 67% approve of Biden’s job performance; for those under 40, that rating drops to 43%.
If the 2024 election for President were held today, 58% of Pennsylvania Latino voters are leaning towards voting for President Joe Biden, while 26% are leaning towards supporting former President Donald Trump, and 16% don’t know.
According to CNN exit polling, in 2020, Biden won 69% of the Latino vote in Pennsylvania, while Trump won 27%.
“A lot of ground has to happen between now and then. A Trump conviction might dramatically change the numbers, a collapse of some economic issue might dramatically change the Biden numbers, and so forth,” said Gary Segura, founding partner and president of BSP Research. “So I think there’s a lot of ground in front of us, but it looks to me as if Biden’s position in Pennsylvania is as strong as it is anywhere, if not stronger than most places.”
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) also holds a 40-point advantage over Republican Dave McCormick among Pennsylvania Latino voters; 56% polled said they plan to vote for Casey, while just 16% said they plan to vote for McCormick, and 28% don’t know.
In 2022, Pennsylvania Latino voters largely backed the Democratic candidates for statewide office by similar margins. According to CBS News exit polling, Josh Shapiro took 72% of the Latino vote for governor that year, and John Fetterman won 68% of the Latino vote for U.S. Senate.
Young Latino voters are slated to play an important role in next year’s election in the Keystone State. In 2024, 21% of Latinos in Pennsylvania will be voting in their first presidential election.
“I really think an important thing to focus on here too, is the way that youth are going to continue to lead the way,” said Danny Friedman, National Director of Campaigns and Programs, Mi Familia Vota. “Our Latino community is younger, on average, than the rest of the broader population in Pennsylvania, the 21% of Latinos who will be voting for the first time, the 15% will be voting in the first federal election.”
Pennsylvania has a higher number of Puerto Ricans among its Latino electorate, according to Segura, a group that historically has leaned more Democratic.
“Biden seems to be doing a little better in Pennsylvania than in some of the other swing states around the country. Part of it is the ethnic makeup,” Collazo added.
According to UnidosUS Hispanic Electorate Data Hub, there are 275,000 registered Latino voters in Pennsylvania.
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