Rep. Reynaldo “Rey” Martinez a Republican from Loganville, said neither party can afford not to engage with Latino voters heading into next year..

Rep. Reynaldo “Rey” Martinez a Republican from Loganville, said neither party can afford not to engage with Latino voters heading into next year..

Credit: Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

With less than a year to go before the 2024 election, Georgia’s Latino voters are thinking about economic issues, and while they align more with the Democratic Party on average, majorities say both parties either don’t care too much about or are hostile toward their community.

Those are some of the findings of a UnidosUS survey of Latino voters in Georgia conducted last month.

Hispanics are the second-fastest growing group of Georgians in the 2020 census, after people who identify as Black, but the major parties have often misunderstood or oversimplified them, leading to weak or no efforts to earn their votes, said Clarissa Martinez, Vice President of UnidosUS’ Latino Vote Initiative.

“In 2022, only three months before the election, a large majority of Hispanic voters in Georgia reported no outreach from either party in what was a highly competitive midterm election,” she said. “We hope that improves this cycle. Our poll today shows that both parties have work to do to better engage and expand support with Hispanic voters.”

Pollsters asked the respondents to list their top three most important issues, and inflation led the pack with 53%, followed by jobs and the economy at 47% and health care at 41%.

“The focus or concern about health care, it’s really about costs,” said Sylvia Manzano, vice president of operations at BSP Research, which conducted the poll. “Premiums, co-pays, deductibles, it’s not so much about quality of care, but it’s about the ability to cover those expenses, and consistent with that concern is 76% of Latino voters in Georgia support Medicaid expansion in the state.”

Rounding out the rest of the top five issues for Latino Georgia voters are crime and gun violence at 24% and immigration and border issues at 23%.

Regarding immigration, 52% said they want elected officials to provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers, or undocumented people brought to the U.S. as minors, and 51% want paths to citizenship for long-U.S.-residing undocumented immigrants. Only 29% said leaders should prioritize increasing border security, and 18% said they should finish the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Only 10% of the respondents said abortion is a top issue for them, but 69% said they think it is wrong to make abortion illegal.

A third of those surveyed said they think Democrats would be better at addressing their top concerns, compared with 25% for Republicans. Another 16% said both parties would be equally good, and 13% said neither would be any good. Men and people over 40 were slightly more likely to say Republicans would do better on their top issues.

Across a range of issues, Georgia Latinos said they believe the Democratic Party is closer to their values, but a sizable chunk said they aren’t feeling the love back.

Overall, 43% of those polled said the Democratic Party doesn’t care too much about the Latino community, with another 11% saying they are hostile toward the community and 46% saying they care a great deal.

But if Democrats have their work cut out for them to inspire Latino voters, Republicans’ work is even more daunting.

A full half of respondents said Republicans don’t care about the Latino community, and the rest were split evenly into saying Republicans do care or that they are hostile toward the community.

President Joe Biden is relatively popular with Georgia Latinos, with 48% saying they approve of his job in the White House and 42% saying they disapprove. If the election were held today, 53% said they would vote for Biden over Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, who would get 32% of the Georgia Latino vote. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis fares slightly worse, losing to Biden 22-57.

With Georgia’s electoral votes decided by fewer than 12,000 ballots in the 2020 election, Latino voters could help decide which party is celebrating this time next year.

“It is incumbent upon elected officials and policymakers to make sure that they pay attention to the needs and wants of Latino voters,” said Jerry Gonzalez, CEO of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials Latino Community Development Fund. “Latino voters will be a driving force in Georgia for the 2024 election cycle, and we’ll be deciding the outcome of those elections and we’ll have national implications as well.”

State Rep. Reynaldo “Rey” Martinez, a Republican from Loganville, said neither party can afford not to engage with Latino voters heading into next year.

“We’re waiting for both parties to reach out to us. It’s very, very important,” he said. “We have a lot to offer here in Georgia, we just crossed the million population mark, we’re about 10% of the population here in Georgia. It seems like both Republicans and Democrats are now reaching out to us and are concerned.”

Martinez predicted Latinos will show up in big numbers for the election, but just like in any other community, in order to win votes, the parties will need to put in work, he said.

“I’m very excited to see what the Hispanic community is going to offer in 2024, but again, both parties have a lot more work to do to reach out, whether it’s TV ads, radio ads, messaging, attending events, showing up where the Hispanic events are and just preaching their issues, whether it’s Democrat or Republican, we need to reach out to the Hispanic community.”

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Georgia Recorder