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Opinion | The Democratic Party’s Latino Voter Problem

Or, rather, the term Latinx, policing and whiteness were issues with underlying policy implications that too often got framed as divisive culture wars, and in ways that minimized the real policy disagreements they highlighted for Latinos: generational divides between Latino Democrats over progressive versus moderate policies; whether the border patrol or police help or harm communities; and whether capitalism, however exploitative, or socialism, however invasive, is the best path toward upward mobility and economic security.

The notion that Latinos were swayed by disinformation implies that they could be duped into voting for Mr. Trump, or that they could have voted for him only if they were duped. Sure, calling President Biden a socialist is disinformation because he is not a socialist. But it’s also the same line of attack that Republicans have used to brand their opponents for a long time. We should be outraged with the lies, and we should combat them. But by merely dismissing the attack as disinformation we ignore why it has been so successful.

It’s not just that socialism conjures ghosts of Latin America’s leftist leaders. It’s also an argument about religion — since conservatives consider socialism a godless philosophy — the ills of government intervention and dependency on government, and education. In a society that cherishes freedom, parents should have a hand in deciding what their children learn.

As much as Democrats would like to dismiss Republican talking points — or misinformation, in some cases — they would be better off understanding how they relate to values that in turn connect with policy preferences. Then they can work to persuade Latinos that their policies are better, even on issues such as religion, the economy and education, on which Republicans claim to occupy more solid ground.

Latino voters aren’t empty vessels just waiting to be filled with liberal beliefs. The problem with focusing only, or even primarily, on messaging and outreach is that it once again doesn’t take Latinos seriously as political actors, and instead assumes that they’re out there ready to be mobilized for the Democratic cause. That’s just not true.

In the end, even if Democrats focus exclusively on policy, they still won’t sway all Latinos to vote for them. But doing so would help them better understand these voters. They should be asking them whether they are paid enough to provide for their families, if they’re satisfied with the schools their children go to, whether they have access to health care, and what government can do to help them reach their goals.

The concrete plans they develop in response, especially for families living paycheck to paycheck and worrying about schools and health care, should respect their work ethic and ambitions. Latinos aren’t looking for “handouts,” but rather, leveling the playing field by, for example, making it easier to get loans to start a business, and increasing access to higher education.

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