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Why Democrats should ignore history and rally Latinos to vote for abortion rights

Second- and third-generation Latino Americans are far more supportive of abortion rights than Latino immigrants.
Photo illustration: Multiple stickers that read,\"He Votado Hoy\" over a bigger sign that reads,\"Keep abortion legal\".
Recent polls suggest that Latino voters' views on abortion have shifted and that there's a higher support for abortion access than ever before.Anjali Nair / MSNBC; Getty Images

Before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade this summer, polls historically showed that Latinos in the United States were generally opposed to abortion.

In 2019, for example, a Public Religion Research Institute survey noted that just 45% of U.S. Latinos favored the legalization of abortion in almost all cases. That same survey concluded that “Hispanics are the ethnic group with the most complex and least supportive views on the legality of abortion,” adding that “Hispanics (23%) are more likely than the general population (15%) to think abortion should be illegal in all cases and less likely (19%) than all Americans (23%) to think it should be legal in all cases.”

Polls historically showed that Latinos in the United States were generally opposed to abortion.

That opposition might be waning, if findings from a recent comprehensive poll of Latino voters are any indication. In a UnidosUS/Mi Familia Vota survey of 2,750 eligible Latino voters released Aug. 10, 76% of respondents agreed with the following statement: “No matter what my personal beliefs about abortion are, I think it is wrong to make abortion illegal and take that choice away from everyone else.” Subgroups of Latino voters also agreed with that statement, including 76% of Catholics, 68% of non-Catholic Christians and 55% of Republicans. Seventy-two percent of Latino men agreed, and 85% of Latina women did.

In addition, the poll noted that 19% of respondents listed abortion as one of the top issues of importance. Abortion ranked as the fifth most important issue, the first time in the poll’s history that it’s made it into the top five. In 2020, only 3% of respondents chose abortion as a top issue. Gary Segura, president of BSP Research, one of the poll’s organizers, called that 16-point shift one of the poll's “more stunning findings,” Politico reported.

Because of that dramatic shift, this could be the moment for Democrats to take advantage and go all-in on making abortion a mobilizing topic for Latinos as Democrats try to keep the House and the Senate.

UnidosUS and Mi Familia Vota have historically leaned toward positions and views more aligned with the Democratic Party, so some Democrats may want to see other data suggesting a major Latino shift on abortion. Such data exists.

Days before the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe, a poll of U.S. Latinos conducted by Ipsos for Axios and Telemundo found that “Seven in ten (71%) Latino Americans oppose making all abortions illegal at any time under any circumstance, compared to just 26% that support such a measure.” That poll also found that “Half of Latino Americans agree that abortion should be legal, while just a quarter (26%) disagree.” According to Axios, the poll showed that “Support for abortion rights depended heavily on whether respondents were born in the U.S.: 41% of immigrants said abortion should be legal, jumping to 59% and 62% respectively with second- and third-generation Americans.”

In other words, while anti-abortion views in the Latino community are still very real among a population where faith and family play central roles, those views and those concerns may not be dominating the political narrative on this specific issue, especially as the country’s largest ethnic voting cohort continues to politically evolve. A poll from the Public Religion Research Institute conducted right after the June Supreme Court decision found that 75% of Latino Catholics supported the legalization of abortion in “most or all cases.” In 2010, only 51% showed said the same.

That 24-point shift in about 10 years coincided with a 10-point decline from 2009 to 2019 in the number of Latinos who identify as Catholic and an 8-point increase in Latinos not affiliated with any organized religion. Predictions are that almost 12 million Latinos will vote in the midterms; there are plenty of votes out there that could make a difference for Democrats.

The party would be smart to capitalize on the political moment, especially in states considering legislation to restrict abortions or if it is serious about fighting back in states that have already banned them. Could abortion be a mobilizer for Latino voters in states like Arizona, Texas or Florida, all of which have a growing hostility toward abortion? Can the issue make the difference in states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Georgia, where Latino voters can help swing the state? If the recent vote to keep abortion legal in Kansas proved anything, it’s that massive turnout in the voting booth can flip any prediction on its head. As Democrats continue to struggle to excite Latino voters, specifically Latina women, abortion can be a galvanizing issue.

The bigger takeaway is that 60% of respondents feel the country is "on the wrong track" and think Democrats and Republicans are ignoring them.

Still, such a strategy might be premature, considering that the bigger takeaway in the UnidosUS/Mi Familia Vota poll is that 60% of respondents feel the country is “on the wrong track” and think Democrats and Republicans are ignoring them. According to the poll, only 59% said they’ll definitely vote in the midterms, suggesting there are many persuadable voters out there who might be moved to participate in the electoral process if they find something to vote for.

“Latino voters are not apathetic, they are unconvinced,” Clarissa Martínez De Castro, vice president of the UnidosUS Latino Vote Initiative, said in a news release about the latest poll. “They are sending a wake-up call to both parties, which remain underwater compared to previous peaks in Hispanic support and persist in their chronic under-engagement and under-investment in these voters.”

The issue that engages Latinos could be abortion, but only if Democrats take the time to understand that the tide has finally shifted.