How Conservatives Can Engage Latino Voters

Recent elections have seen a rise in Latino voter engagement for conservatives. What is driving this increase in conservative Latino engagement with the party? FreedomWorks vice president of policy Cesar Ybarra joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to dive into the reasons.

“The Democrats label [Donald] Trump as the most racist, anti-Hispanic president in America in history, and what happened?” says Ybarra. “He increased his share of the Latino vote in those four years by nearly 10 points.”

Ybarra says that Hispanic voters are driven by three things: supporting law enforcement, increasing parental involvement at schools, and lowering the prices. Listen to the complete interview on the podcast. Or, read a lightly edited transcript of the conversation below.

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Listen to these stories and the full interview on the podcast, or read a lightly edited transcript of Ybarra’s interview below:

Douglas Blair: Cesar Ybarra is FreedomWorks’ vice president of policy. Cesar, welcome on the show.

Cesar Ybarra: Hey, it’s great to be with you. It’s great to be there [The]Heritage [Foundation].

Blair: Absolutely. We are grateful for your presence. So today we’re going to talk about an issue that doesn’t really get a lot of attention, but probably should amongst conservatives, and that is the policy preferences of Latinos. Before we go any further in this interview, I believe it might be helpful to define our terms. So how are we defining the term “Latino” here?

Ybarra: … It’s interesting because a lot of people identify as Hispanic, a lot of people identify as Latino. Honestly, it’s kind of a toss-up, it’s kind of preference. But mostly, people who tend to be from Mexico tend to identify as Hispanic, but the further south you go into Central America, maybe Latin America, that’s when people start identifying as Latinos. But it’s almost sort of preference, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into the Hispanic versus Latino identification. You can just put them all together.

Blair: So when we’re hearing terms like Hispanic American or Latino American, these are basically the same?

Ybarra: Yeah, you’re splitting hairs at that point.

Blair: OK, interesting. Blair: OK, interesting. How has this played out?

Ybarra: Well, it’s funny. [President] Ronald Reagan said once, “Hispanics are conservative, they just don’t know it yet.” And it’s something the Democrat Party never realized until recently when this mass media communication started popping up and Hispanics started getting a better outlook into the policy and political world here in America.

And I think one of the biggest mistakes that both parties have made is assuming that just because you’re not white, that means you’re going to automatically be pulled into the Democrat or, say, the center-left political spectrum.

It has been proved wrong. Just look at everything that’s been happening. As far as the demographic changing, that’s more political, in my point of view, but I think that’s the case right now.

Blair: Ok. [Donald] Trump with Latino voters, and I guess I’m curious as to what specifically caused that change.

Ybarra: Well, you look at Hidalgo County, Starr County down in Texas, it’s down in McAllen, Texas, down in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas. I love to tell the Hidalgo County story.

Hillary Clinton won this county by 40 points in 2016. That’s 90-something percent Hispanic. In 2020, Donald Trump … lost that county by 17 points. But my point is, that’s a 90% Hispanic county, and he nearly cut his losses by half. So that is huge considering you’re in a 90% Hispanic district.

In the polling that we’ve done at FreedomWorks, we found that crime and safety is a big, big issue. What are the issues facing Starr County and Hidalgo County residents? They’re facing drug cartel violence, they’re facing the mass immigration problems, just the criminality that’s happening at the border.

We did a trip down to McAllen to talk to some of the activists and law enforcement people down there, and yeah, they’re not having it.

This speaks volumes about the fact that Hispanics are concerned about safe communities and law and order. They also care about enforcement of immigration laws as well as general criminal behavior. All these woke DAs in cities are not enforcing simple law or prosecuting those who have committed crimes. That’s why you saw that big shift in four years.

Blair: … Sounds like these are voters that have the same concerns as everybody else.

Ybarra: Sure.

Blair: If their communities are unsafe or they feel like they’re unsafe, they’re going to vote a separate way.

Ybarra: Exactly. And here’s the biggest mistake, in my opinion, that people in D.C. have made. They’ve always assumed that Hispanics only cared about immigration. That’s so patronizing, and that could not be more further from the truth.

Our polling shows that Hispanics care most about the economy, safe communities, and education. Guess where immigration ranks on the issues? All the way at bottom. … And it’s not only a one-off poll—poll after poll after poll, immigration always ranks at the bottom of the issues that they care about.

Blair: This seems like a topic that both parties believe is a winning issue for Latino voters. This is a clear indication that both Republicans and Democrats will do it. Where did this perception come from?

Ybarra: … When I was in college in Arizona, I used to volunteer for The LIBRE Initiative. … We were doing canvassing down in Tucson, Arizona, for the Martha McSally versus Ron Barber race. And we would go down the list of the 10 issues, like, “Where are you on Social Security reform?” And all these things. And 7 of 10 questions they answered with the conservative answer.

But then when you ask them, “Who are you going to vote for?”, they said, “Well, I’m going to vote for Ron Barber, the Democrat.” “Well, why is that?” The perception was always that, “Well, it’s Republicans who don’t like my family and … they’re bad on immigration, etc.”

Now, that’s the flip side of what I was saying about the issue that they care least about. But … generally speaking, traditionally, Hispanics have seen the Republican Party as a party that wants to kick my grandma out of the country, so to speak. So, yeah.

Blair: Now, we’re seeing that perception change with time.

Ybarra: We’re seeing that perception change because the policy issues are coming to the forefront. I think that’s one of the good things that Donald Trump was able to do, is really highlight the importance of policy, not politics.

You mean, Trump is the most racist and anti-Hispanic president of America’s history. And what has happened? In those four years, he increased his Latino vote share by almost 10 points. That’s huge—like 14 to 15 points in Florida. The gains he made in Texas border counties was huge.

Arizona is where we need to make more ground. He did increase his Latino vote, but that is not the point. That speaks to the importance and importance of discussing policies, not politics.

In the most recent polling that we just did, it showed that Hispanics, they don’t tend to favor Republicans. However, if you start talking about conservative policy instead of Republican policies they will tend to side with us more because they identify themselves as conservatives.

And what we’ve seen over the last 40 years is that ideological self-identification correlates with political affiliation, party affiliation. So the more we can start talking about conservative policies on parental rights and low tax, all these good things Heritage talks about, FreedomWorks talks about, the more we’re going to make gains with these communities.

This is only a small step. Hispanics still support Democrat politics, but they still favor conservative policies. We have a huge bridge to build. That’s a future project that’s coming a decade down the line to make that happen.

Blair: Interesting. When you were talking, one thing that struck me was the fact that there are Latinos living in Arizona. This is something conservatives need to pay more attention to. It almost makes me wonder if there is really a difference between these groups. A Hispanic voter in Florida will vote differently from a Hispanic voter in New York. In Texas, a Hispanic voter will vote differently. Is it even useful to use the term “Latino” as a monolithic block of voters anymore?

Ybarra: It all depends on where your origin is. David Shor was an Obama data guy. He was super smart and did a postmortem of the 2020 election. He showed that there was an election precinct in Doral (Miami-Dade County), that was swinging, I believe it was 40 points. Hillary had won that precinct by 40 points, and that’s overwhelmingly Venezuelan and Colombian. Trump won this precinct by 10 points in 2020.

But what does this all mean? It speaks to—OK, you look at Venezuela, you look at Colombia, big history with socialism and big government, etc. That played a part. Where versus in Mexico, you had big government policies, but that’s never really been the issue of big tyranny. Mexico’s issues are different from those in Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua, and Nicaragua. Again, I think it’s more of the politics of the country that they came from versus Latino versus Hispanic, etc.

Blair: Right. So to that point, it almost seems like it’s more useful to look in terms of, “OK, Venezuelan Americans are centralized in this part of the country, so our campaign strategy is to do this,” versus, “A different demographic of Latinos is in this part of the country, so we would tailor the message to be that.” Is that what we’re saying?

Ybarra: Yep. And again, what we should be focusing on as conservatives when we’re reaching out to these communities: the economy/inflation, education, and safe communities.

I mean, those three issues with the right conservative messaging is—I mean, that should be like crack for just the center-right movement in reaching out to those communities. Because these are winning issues that we’re right on policy. And when you’re right on policy, then you have good politics. Good policy is better politics.

So the more we can press and push our policies to these communities, the better outcomes we’re going to have on the electoral side of the spectrum.

Blair: You mentioned that FreedomWorks had recently done some polling and that you found some policy preferences for Latino voters. What were the results?

Ybarra: Yeah. We recently conducted a poll to find out if they agree or disagree with the conservative message. 51% of conservatives are in agreement, and 51% of Hispanics support the conservative view of prioritizing law enforcement. So prosecute crimes, regardless of how big or small.

50 percent support funding law enforcement officers and fifty-one percent agree. That’s huge because we know the narrative of the Democrat Party is “defund the police” and “cops are mean.” So we got to continue pushing that.

57% of parents agree that parents should be involved more in education. Huge. And 58% agree that goods should cost less—gas, food, just day-to-day commodities that have been skyrocketing, thanks to President [Joe] Biden’s inflation.

So yeah, that’s what it showed. Again, how do we get those numbers. By testing the conservative versus liberal position, and asking them, “Do you agree with the conservative position or with the liberal position?” Not, “Do you agree with the Republican position or the Democrat position?”

So you’ve got to talk about the ideological side of things, not the partisan side of things. Because even if you look at other minority communities … If you look at black Americans, a lot of them tend to also self-identify as conservative. Asian Americans are also included. Muslim Americans.

I was listening to a Joe Rogan podcast the other day, and I think it was Maajid Nawaz, or I think that was his name, it was a Muslim American guy, but he was talking about how the Muslim American community self-identifies as conservative, and they’ve seen big gains in his community in voting for Republicans.

So you’re not only seeing this shift in Hispanics, but you’re seeing it across the minority communities that self-identify as conservative.

Blair: Interesting. Is language a factor in outreach to the Latino community or not?

Ybarra: Yeah. I mean, look, my mom, rest in peace, but she was as American as they come, couldn’t speak a thing of English. I mean, she could speak a little bit, but there are thousands of examples like her, where their first language is Spanish, but they’re still American and they still vote.

So yeah, language can be a thing, and that’s why it’s important to have people who speak Spanish in the center-right movement reaching out to those communities, because the language barrier exists, it’s there.

So yeah, it’s a twofold thing. We have to do everything we can to ensure that they have the resources to speak English and all of that self-improvement, but also have the resources to reach out to them when they’re not there yet. So I would say it’s an opportunity for the Spanish-speaking folks in the conservative world to use their Spanish and make some gains.

Blair: Sure. Cesar, one last question. What should we do if we want to continue our efforts as conservatives with Latinos?

Ybarra: My motto is ABC: Always be campaigning. We can’t sleep. We’re not there yet. We’re not fully there yet. Our polling shows that Hispanics still favor Democrat politics, but prefer conservative policies. So it’s going to take a village.

FreedomWorks is doing it. We have people in The LIBRE Initiative doing this. Everyone else that has the resources—politicians, think tanks, advocacy groups—everyone that believes in the freedom message should be doing everything they can to spread their message to the Hispanic community.

Because if we get this right, that’s going to change electoral politics in the 21st century 100%, and the Democrats are going to be scrambling. Because if we’re able to make a dent in the Hispanic community, I mean, I’m getting goosebumps of just how fun it’s going to be in getting good policy passed in Congress or in the state legislatures, school boards.

Keep pushing your message. You can be creative in how you communicate with these communities. It is possible.

What did President Biden accomplish in the election campaign? He got Bad Bunny, the comedian, to do an ad. He’s one of the most famous Hispanics. He played “Despacito.” And, I mean, those things don’t work. He got on a press conference, got his iPhone and played “Despacito.” OK, who cares? That’s not Hispanic outreach. He got his wife to say “si se puede.” I think she couldn’t even say “si se puede” right.

All of these things are just like young children saying, “Cringe Outreach”, and we shouldn’t be doing it. We should be focusing our efforts on policies. Education, economy and safe communities. We get those three right, we’re going to win.

Blair: Excellent. Cesar Ybarra was vice president of FreedomWorks policy. Cesar, thank you so much for your time.

Ybarra: We are very grateful.

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