Republicans showed marked improvement among Latino voters on an otherwise lackluster night, claiming 39% of their vote nationally, according to networks’ exit polling, which showed a 10-percentage-point increase over the 2018 midterm elections.
The showing was powered by strong performances in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis won 57% of Latino voters en route to a smashing victory for his second term, and in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott won 40% of Latinos and collected a third term.
The news was welcome for Republicans on a night that otherwise counted as a disappointment, with hopes of a red wave failing to materialize.
Latinos tacked closer to the Republican Party across all demographics.
Republicans collected 45% of Latino men’s votes, according to CNN’s version of the network exit polling. That was up from 34% in 2018. A third of Latino women voted for Republicans, up from 26% in the previous midterm elections.
Republicans also made gains across all age groups, with a particular surge among younger Latino voters. Three in 10 Latinos younger than 30 voted Republican, up from 17% in 2018.
Overall, Latinos comprised 11% of voters, the exit polling projected. That was the same rate as in 2018.
Mr. DeSantis’ victory told much of the story.
His share of Latino voters rose from 44% in his first gubernatorial campaign to 57% this time. Latinos made up more than 1 in 5 voters in the state on Tuesday.
“He killed it,” said Emilio Gonzalez, a former city manager in Miami. He said Mr. DeSantis and the Republican Party ran masterful campaigns with good candidates and lots of attention to Latino voters.
In Texas, Mr. Abbott won 40% of Latino votes, close to the 42% he collected in 2018. Latinos made up 21% of the vote in Texas.
In Nevada, where big statewide races were still in doubt Wednesday, Republicans were eying the chance to oust incumbents in part because of significant gains among Latinos.
Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak’s share of the Latino vote slid by 8 percentage points from his 2018 election. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s share dropped by 9 points compared with Sen. Jacky Rosen, a fellow Democrat who was on the ballot in 2018.
Latinos’ share of the state electorate was significantly smaller this time, according to the exit polling.
In the run-up to the elections, immigrant rights activists and Democratic Party leaders complained that Hispanic voters were being swamped with “disinformation” that was pushing them toward the Republican Party.
“The malicious spread of Spanish-language conspiracy theories and disinformation by right-wing bad actors on social networks has contributed to these shifting demographics,” United We Dream Action, an advocacy group for illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” said in a series of emails to supporters about the battle for Latino minds.
Indeed, a complaint about Spanish-language disinformation prompted Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to reveal his ill-fated Disinformation Governance Board this year.
On Tuesday, as results from Florida were coming in, former White House press secretary Jen Psaki renewed the complaint about Latino voters being led astray.
“And there is a massive disinformation problem in Spanish language media,” she said on Twitter.
She also seemed to downplay the Florida results.
“The Latino vote is not the same everywhere!” she said, suggesting that Latinos in Florida are generally older and skew decidedly more Republican than elsewhere.
She also said “socialism does not play there.”
Mr. Gonzalez, an immigrant from Cuba, said ties to socialism are indeed a reason why Democrats struggled so badly in Florida, but it’s not the only explanation.
He said he saw data showing that Mr. DeSantis won 68% of Cubans, 55% of Puerto Ricans and 50% of other Latinos.
He dismissed the disinformation argument as belittling.
“For the Democrats, disinformation is defined as people that don’t agree with us,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “Hispanics aren’t going to be swayed by blatant lies. They’re just as reasonable people as anybody else. They’re going to ask questions. They’re not going to go out there and vote for somebody just because a radio person told them to.”
The exit polling delivered new insights into Latino voters.
Nearly two-thirds said they support stronger gun control measures. They were firmly in the liberal camp when it came to abortion, with 75% saying it should be legal all or most of the time.
Indeed, Latinos rated abortion as a more important voting issue than inflation, bucking the broader trend for the general population.
Mr. Biden had a 57% approval rating among Latino voters, significantly better than he did with the general population.
Just 28% held favorable views of former President Donald Trump, suggesting that their support for Republicans doesn’t necessarily mean support for the MAGA agenda.
Mr. Trump won 32% of the Latino vote in the 2020 election, according to exit polling.