Is the Bridge Broken? Increasing Ethnic Attachments and Declining Party Influence among Latino Voters

Published date01 March 2021
Date01 March 2021
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-18FBjJlx56TW5V/input 888577PRQXXX10.1177/1065912919888577Political Research QuarterlyMorín et al.
Political Research Quarterly
2021, Vol. 74(1) 182 –198
Is the Bridge Broken? Increasing Ethnic
© 2020 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
Attachments and Declining Party
DOI: 10.1177/1065912919888577
Influence among Latino Voters
Jason L. Morín1 , Yoshira Macías Mejía2 ,
and Gabriel R. Sanchez3
In this article, we test whether perceptions of Latino linked fate influence partisan identification and voting behavior
among the Latino electorate across time. Specifically, we contend that attachments to the Latino community have
become more widely used heuristics for Latino voters due to an increase in anti-immigrant (Latino) sentiment. Moreover,
growing attachments to the Latino community have the potential to influence partisanship and even compete with
traditional partisan loyalties (i.e., partisan heuristics) at the polls. To test our argument, we rely on multiple surveys
of Latino likely voters with similar measures that span over a decade and a half. Our results indicate that perceptions
of linked fate, to varying degrees, are associated with Latino’s decisions to identify with the Democratic Party. At
least in more recent presidential elections, they also indicate that Latinos are becoming increasingly reliant on ethnic
heuristics while becoming less reliant on their own partisan identity to make decisions at the polls. The findings have
important implications for the future of the Democratic and Republican Parties’ ability to court Latino voters and our
understanding of how party identification operates among the Latino electorate.
Latina/o politics, party identification, elections and voting behavior
election in which 72 percent of Latinos reported voting
for him—it appeared as though Latinos were becoming a
Democrats and Republicans have been eager to secure a
more solid component of the Democratic Party’s voting
long-term relationship with the Latino electorate over the
base. Candidate Trump’s highly volatile campaign that
last several election cycles. Not only do Latinos consti-
mobilized Latinos against the GOP through the racializa-
tute a sizable percentage of the eligible voter population
tion of Latino immigrants (G. R. Sanchez and Gomez-
but they also maintain a growing electoral presence in the
Aguinaga 2017) led to further speculation that the GOP’s
United States, particularly in key battleground states like
opportunity to repair relationships with Latino voters was
Nevada, Florida, and Colorado.1 Both the increase and
finished (Latino Decisions [LD] 2016). In fact, candidate
regional concentration of the Latino population suggest
Trump received the lowest level of support from the
that Latinos are poised to wield significant political influ-
Latino electorate of either major party candidate.2 That
ence in the United States. Already, Latino’s rise to politi-
said, LD data from the 2016 Election Eve Survey revealed
cal prominence has coincided with key election outcomes,
that Latino’s motivation to vote in the presidential election
partisan shifts to the Electoral College landscape, and the
was driven by a desire to support the Latino community
salience of key issues, such as immigration policy, on the
in addition to the Democratic Party. This raises the ques-
domestic policy agenda.
tion of whether the strength of Latino party identification
Yet, based on prior presidential elections, Latinos may
be a population that is still somewhat up for grabs for
both political parties. It was not that long ago that Latinos
California State University, Northridge, USA
were widely viewed as a swing-voting electorate, largely
Michigan State University, East Lansing, USA
3The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, USA
due to moderate views of many Latinos on social issues
(L. Sanchez 2016). In 2004, President George W. Bush
Corresponding Author:
captured close to 40 percent of the Latino vote in his suc-
Jason L. Morín, Department of Political Science, California State
University, Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, CA
cessful re-election campaign. After record levels of sup-
91330, USA.
port for President Obama in 2012—following the 2008

Morín et al.
decreased due to a greater role of ethnic attachment or
supports our general argument that Latinos lack a solidi-
identity—even with the recent shift toward Democratic
fied relationship with the Democratic Party due to a
movement among Latinos to make their voting decisions
Indeed, recent political events led to much specula-
based on support for their community, not either party.
tion over Latino’s partisan ties. On one hand, the trend
The analysis also suggests that voting based on support-
toward the Democratic Party, coupled with Republican’s
ing the Latino community led to movement away from
lack of courtship, suggests that Latinos are becoming
GOP candidates among some self-identified Republicans.
firmly entrenched as Democratic partisans. Yet existing
This, coupled with a high concentration of eligible voters
research on Latinos also suggests that such attachments
who do not have a multigenerational relationship with
may not be as stable, since partisan identification for
either party, provides an opportunity for both parties to
many Latinos is acquired later in life and because Latinos
revisit a conversation with the Latino electorate for their
tend to evaluate the party’s position on issues before
vote if they revise their messaging and policy stance on
making political decisions (Bowler, Nicholson, and
immigration policy.
Segura 2006; de la Garza and Cortina 2007; Hajnal and
Lee 2011). Furthermore, essentially half of the Latino
electorate are younger millennials who have yet to estab-
lish a long, multi-election voting history.3 While these
There has been much debate surrounding the stability of
factors are suggestive of a Latino electorate that is “up
Latino’s partisan identity in the United States.4 Despite
for grabs,” the recent increase in Latino Democratic
some earlier observations of Latinos moving away from
Party affiliation may ultimately mask other competing
the two major political parties (see Hajnal and Lee
identities that could have a more long-term impact on
2011), previous scholarship shows partisan affiliation to
Latino partisanship—most notably, an increase in ethnic
be relatively consistent across time (Alvarez and Bedolla
attachment or identity.
2003; de la Garza and Cortina 2007; Nicholson and
The purpose of this article is to examine the extent to
Segura 2005).5 According to Figure 1, Latinos are more
which ethnic attachments, including linked fate, influ-
likely to affiliate with the Democratic Party, followed by
ence Latino’s partisan identification and voting behav-
Independents and Republicans, respectively. In recent
ior. We develop and test a theory of ethnic attachment-party
years, though, Latinos have increasingly identified with
detachment. More specifically, we contend that percep-
the Democratic Party. In 2016, 51 percent identified as
tions of Latino linked fate and attachments to the Latino
Democrat, 28 percent identified as Independent, and 8
community have become more widely used heuristics for
percent identified as Republican. This increase in
Latino voters due to an increase in anti-immigrant (Latino)
Democratic affiliation also corresponds with a decreas-
sentiment. Moreover, growing attachments to the Latino
ing number of Latinos who say they don’t know/refused
community have the potential to influence partisan iden-
to answer.6
tity and even compete with traditional partisan loyalties at
Latino’s increasing preference for the Democratic
the polls. We, therefore, expect perceptions of linked fate
Party suggests two possible interpretations. On one hand,
and ethnic attachments to increasingly shape Latino’s par-
it is suggestive of growing partisan loyalty or partisan
tisan identification and support for political candidates. To
strength. According to Campbell et al. (1960), party sta-
test our expectations, this study relies on multiple datasets
bility is a manifestation of long-term influences, particu-
that span across four presidential election cycles, from
larly parental socialization, which occur primarily during
2004 to 2016. This research design allows for an assess-
childhood. Partisan loyalties grow stronger over time,
ment of the role of ethnic attachments beyond one election
making individuals further entrenched in their political
cycle that could either heighten or downplay racial iden-
camps with age. Indeed, partisanship and its effects on
tity. The results from this study show that perceptions of
political behavior are well documented. Outside issues
Latino linked fate consistently, but to varying degrees,
of race, partisanship tends to be relatively stable across
predict Democratic partisan affiliation. Moreover, in more
time (Carmine and Stimson 1989), as well as persistent
recent elections, ethnic cues have become a significant
in accounting for individual political attitudes (Bartels
predictor of Latino vote choice with perceptions of linked
2002) and voting behavior (Abramson...

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