A guest listens as President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with Latino community leaders at the White House on August 3, 2021, in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee—Getty Images
September 29, 2022 4:32 PM EDT

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The Democratic Party’s relationship with the Latino community is complicated. For years, it was taken as gospel that they were the party’s future, a quickly growing bloc that was naturally aligned to boost Democrats if those eligible to vote could just be convinced to reliably do so. But among Democratic strategists, a low-key worry about the loyalties of Latino voters has been simmering for years. Some new research could calm those fears, but maybe not for the reasons one might have guessed.

New data from the Pew Research Center suggests Democrats’ hold on the Latino community may be surprisingly durable, with the vast majority of its voters viewing the party favorably. One possible explanation in Pew’s report? The rising importance of abortion rights, which a majority of Latinos support, according to the findings released Thursday, based on a survey conducted in August. In fact, abortion now outranks immigration, climate change, and the Supreme Court in importance to Latinos, climbing from the 15th spot in a March survey to the 7th spot in August. A majority—57%—of Latinos say abortion should be a legal option, including 39% of Latino Republicans.

The Dobbs ruling, in short, may have saved Democrats’ flaking alliance with Latino voters, long assumed to trend conservative when it came to social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion rights. That still remains true among Evangelical Latinos but less so among Catholic Latinos, the surveys found. In fact, 59% of Catholic Latinos would prefer Democrats keep their majority in the House.

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of tension in this sample of the second-largest voting bloc in the country. Roughly a third of Latinos don’t agree that Democrats care about Latinos or represent their interests. A majority 54% disapprove of how President Joe Biden is doing his job. And 25% want Trump to remain in national politics.

That’s maybe not as surprising when you consider Trump won more Latino voters in 2020 than he did in 2016, even after he spent his first term demonizing immigrants and building a border wall symbolic of his hostility to newcomers.

Long considered a panacea for winning Latino votes, a pathway to citizenship doesn’t even log majority backing in the Pew data; only 48% of Latino voters support a plan for those in the country illegally to become legal residents. Among Republican Latinos, support drops to 28%. And roughly 1-in-10 self-described Democratic Latinos hold views that actually more traditionally would be defined as Republican.

So, why does this matter? Because Republicans would hold the White House and Congress in perpetuity if only white men voted. Democrats’ coalition leans heavily on Black, Latino, and female voters, and a fraying of that alliance is a very real threat to the party’s future. Democrats have slightly boosted their share of the Latino vote, climbing from 62% in 2019 to 64% now—a statistically negligible difference, for sure, but let’s remember that most elections are won in the gray and mushy middle. And the Pew analysis finds 53% prefer Democratic candidates to win their House vote this fall, although among Cubans that number falls to 35% signaling yet more potential trouble for Democrats in Florida.

All of which is to say this: Democrats are still on solid ground with Latinos, but just barely. No constituency wants to feel taken for granted. Indifference spurs curiosity, and Democrats are inching dangerously close to giving Latino voters a reason to adopt a wandering eye. The new Pew numbers merely measure their aperture.

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Write to Philip Elliott at philip.elliott@time.com.

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