In This Episode
Are demographics destiny? We talk to working-class Latino voters in Las Vegas about what issues matter most to them and whether they’ll vote for Democrats this fall. Political scientist Ruy Teixeira, former Bernie Sanders presidential campaign manager Faiz Shakir, and Carlos Odio of EquisLabs join to discuss.
If you want to learn more about how you can take action in the fight for our democracy, head over to Vote Save America and Culinary Union 226:
Jon Favreau: Melanie Arizmendi started canvassing when she was 18, before the 2018 Nevada primaries. She went with her mom, a proud member of Culinary 226, the biggest union in Las Vegas – one that deployed 500 canvassers to knock on more than half a million doors for Joe Biden.
Melanie Arizmendi: She likes to, uh, teach me. She’s like, no Melanie you gotta do it this way! She’s very loud. I don’t know if you’ve seen like a Mexican mom, like trying to push her point.
Jon Favreau: Melanie’s family hasn’t had it easy. No matter how hard they’ve worked, it’s never been enough to keep up with the cost of housing – starting with the crash that led to the Great Recession of 2008.
[clip of Katie Couric]: Now it’s official, we are in a recession.
[news clip]: A report out today says nearly 213,000 homeowners got foreclosure notices, just in July. Nevada is ground zero for the housing crisis.
Melanie Arizmendi: I was born in California in Los Angeles, moved to Vegas when I was three. Because my parents thought it was too expensive in California. Uh, we went to Vegas, we lived here till 2008. We moved to San Diego because we lost a house in 2008. It’s very tough moving a lot of times, I think I went to like ten different schools. It was pretty lonely, but it’s okay. I got used to it. If you are able to stay in the same house from the time you were like a kid, it’s very fortunate.
Jon Favreau: Housing is way too expensive almost everywhere right now, but Las Vegas is one of the worst markets in the country Melanie’s also a full-time nursing student, and when the pandemic hit, she couldn’t afford her own place, so she and her boyfriend moved back home to live with her parents – just like millions of other young people during COVID. Which is one reason she’s out knocking on doors in another midterm election.
Melanie Arizmendi: Hello, my name’s Melanie Arizmendi. I’m with the culinary union. Uh, I just wanted to…
Jon Favreau: The culinary workers have proposed a ballot initiative for the 2022 midterms that would institute rent control in the predominantly Latino, working-class neighborhood of North Las Vegas.
Melanie Arizmendi: The union asked us what do you think is the most concerning right now? And we, most of us, said housing. For the whole entire paycheck to go to, housing, how is not attainable? You need a down payment and you need to be able to like live. To Eat!
Jon Favreau: Rent control would be life changing for people like Melanie and her family, which is why she’s spent her summer collecting signatures in 100-degree heat – because housing is an issue that too many politicians aren’t doing anything about or even talking about.
Rep. Katie Porter: I have such a story about this.
Jon Favreau: Remember Congresswoman Katie Porter from our last episode?
Rep. Katie Porter: When I met with my first political consultant, and he said, well, you know, what do you see as the issues that you wanna run on? Like who’s Katie Porter gonna be? And I said housing and the, the political consultant, who’s no longer my consultant by the way said, well, that’s not really like a thing. And I said, no, no, no listen to me, this is the crisis that people are facing. And this is the crisis that we’re coming into as a country. But generally this is thought about as a private problem, right? Not a public one, there’s sort of this category public housing, and we know what that conjures up and what that typically means. And the rest of it is sort of a thought about as like, not really the government’s problem. That’s completely untrue.
Jon Favreau: Melanie and the Culinary Union are fighting to make sure housing the government’s problem. And that’s why they’re also focused on November.
Melanie Arizmendi: Now we’re gonna go tell people to go vote because that’s the most important thing.
Jon Favreau: It is indeed. Nevada is one of the most important battlefields of the 2022 midterms. When organizers like Melanie are knocking on doors about rent control, they’re also trying to convince voters to re-elect Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak, who’s facing off against the Big Lie-believing Sheriff of Clark County, Joe Lombardo. But the biggest race in Nevada is also one of the closest in the country – the campaign between Adam Laxalt, a Trump-endorsed son of a political dynasty who my Pod Save America co-host Dan Pfeiffer calls the Connor Roy of Nevada, and Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, the first Latina Senator in U.S. history, and one of the few candidates who’s made affordable housing central to her campaign.
[clip of Catherine Cortez Masto]: I’ve been working with so many in my state to figure out what is it we need to do to address affordable housing.
Jon Favreau: Like Pennsylvania, control of the U.S. Senate may come down to Nevada. Unlike Pennsylvania, Nevada is the only Biden state where the President didn’t improve on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance, even though the electorate became more diverse. So, what happened? For years, political experts have predicted that a diversifying America would favor the Democratic Party, particularly as a growing number of Latino immigrants and their children have become voting citizens, making up a larger share of the electorate with each passing year. That prediction seemed like an especially good one in 2016, when the Republican Party nominated someone who announced his candidacy like this.
[clip of President Donald Trump]: When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. Their rapists.
Jon Favreau: Sure enough, Trump lost Latino voters in 2016 by 40 points. In 2018, when he made the final months of the midterms about invading caravans full of immigrants, Republicans lost Latino voters by a similar margin. But in 2020, something unexpected happened. Donald Trump still lost the Latino vote, but he did a lot better than he had in 2016. And Republicans didn’t just do better with any kind of Latino voter – they made their biggest gains with working-class Latinos who don’t have a four-year college degree, which is about 85% of all Latinos. In a state like Nevada, where Latinos make up nearly 20% of the electorate – one of the highest shares of any state in the country – the Democrats simply can’t win if they keep losing working-class Latino voters. The same is true in other states with big Latino populations like Arizona, Texas, Colorado, and Florida – but it’s also true in very competitive states with smaller Latino populations, like Georgia, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. So what can we do? How can Latino organizers like Melanie and her mother win over enough of their neighbors and co-workers to make sure that housing is more affordable, Nevada stays blue, and we re-elect the country’s first Latina Senator? A few miles from the Vegas strip where a lot of the Culinary members work, I sat down with seven working-class Latino voters. Everyone in this group identified themselves as an Independent, but some were certainly more conservative than others, and it was the only group where two voters had supported Donald Trump in 2020. Two others voted for Biden, one voted third party, and the last two didn’t say who they voted for. As usual, I gathered together a team of experts to help unpack this conversation.
Carlos Odio: Hey, Carlos Odio. I am co-founder of Equis research and EquisLabs.
Ruy Teixeira: Yeah, I’m Ruy Teixeira. I’m uh, currently a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Faiz Shakir: Faiz Shakir. I was Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign manager, and still retain essentially a, a title of chief advisor to Bernie, and I have started a media organization called more perfect union that is focused on telling the stories of working people of buy and for working people.
Jon Favreau: We’ll hear from Carlos, Ruy, Faiz, and seven Nevada voters after the break.
[various voices]: I stay away from Twitter. I figured it’d be bad for my mental health / You were correct / Carlos is out there somewhere, right? / Oh yeah. Carlos Odio is here.
Jon Favreau: I went to Vegas because, well, it’s Vegas – but I also wanted to sit down with some of the working-class Latino voters who’ve been drifting away from the Democratic Party in recent elections. There’s been a big, heated debate among political pundits and strategists about why this is happening, so I wanted to make sure I brought together some experts who could represent the different sides of this debate, and actually bring some data and experience to the conversation. Carlos is a brilliant strategist and former Obama campaign colleague who runs one of the best Latino polling firms in the country. Ruy was one of the leading proponents of the demographics are destiny theory who has since changed his mind, and now has views on the subject that are a bit more controversial within the party. And Faiz didn’t just run Bernie Sanders’ winning Nevada caucus campaign – he was a top adviser to Nevada’s most successful political leader, Harry Reid, and now runs a group that’s focused on organizing workers. I sat down with the three of them a few weeks after I came back from Vegas to share what I’d heard and ask them to help us break it all down. I wanted to start by getting some opening thoughts from each of you on the long running debate. You’ve all been part of about the democratic party’s relationship with Latino voters. Uh, where does it stand? What are some common misconceptions? What are campaigns and candidates getting wrong? Carlos, you’ve been closest to the data and you’ve probably seen countless focus groups, like the one that we’re about to hear from, what do you think?
Carlos Odio: I think what we know is that there’s a lot of swing in the Latino vote. And I think for a period of time, we took for granted that they were part of the democratic coalition. And I would say, you know, you have different waves, but really after the immigration debates of 2006, 2007, you had this period where there was a vision of the Republican party formed within those immigration debates that created a group norm among many Latinos. That was, we can’t vote for them. They’re anti Latino, they’re racist. They’re anti-immigrant, it’s the whole package. And that helped create, um, an inflated democratic coalition, right? And gave a sense of a two thirds majority that almost seemed permanent. And that as younger Latinos agency electorate at an, at a very fast rate would only persist if not grow. What we saw after 2016 during the Trump tenure is some erosion of that group norm, right. Where it stopped, being so socially unacceptable, to vote for Republicans in particular for Trump. And there was a shift, right? And where we are right now is I think a great deal of uncertainty, right? It could fall either way. There’s a lot that can happen between now and the end of the election because a lot of Latino voters are still in that undecided column.
Jon Favreau: Ruy, I know you’ve written quite a bit about this. Uh, your thoughts?
Ruy Teixeira: I think the Democrats have become increasingly identified with a set of positions and sociocultural issues. They really don’t sit that well with a lot of Hispanic working people who tend to be conservative to moderate and their social views. And then you combine that with people’s views. Uh, initially at least that Trump economy worked quite well until the COVID epidemic hit. After that, you had a lot of Hispanics being worried about whether the Democrats really serious about reopening the economy. Many of these people work in law enforcement. Many of these people work in resource extraction industries, oil and gas. There’s a sense in which Democrats are seen as being hostile, those industries. And to some extent with the Democrats, it comes down to what have you done for me be done for me lately. That’s a question that they can’t answer satisfactorily.
Jon Favreau: Faiz, you know, Nevada politics very well, uh, ran a campaign there that won over quite a few of the voters we’re about to hear from, what do you think?
Faiz Shakir: You’re talking about, communities that have a recent immigrant past or a not too distant immigrant past. So, they at least can remember the immigration story by which they came here. And so when you think about why they came to America, and what they’re trying to do in America is, a reflection on a story of America that they can remember that this is a story of opportunity. And for some who come and try to make their own life here, they see whoa, a lot harder, a lot more challenging, a lot more corrupt, and so what type of politics that I think appeal to them are values oriented around the original ambition of America. Say, hey, this is a land of opportunity to land of freedom and it’s values oriented.
Jon Favreau: I think, uh, you’ll all find echoes of everything that the three of you just said in, uh, in some of the clips that we’re gonna be hearing. I wanna to start by finding out what issues were most important to these voters. Let’s take a listen. What are some of the biggest issues, that you think are affecting Las Vegas and Nevada overall?
[various voices]: Housing, housing, housing, housing. Yeah.
[clip of Voter 1]: I’ve lived in and outta Vegas for 32 years, every sign used to have 99 and move-in special, everything. You can’t find that no more. And then they want the credit to match. Like we were one of those people where the owner sold right from under us. And I had a, there was no weeklys for us to go to. We were hotel hopping. And that’s 70 to a hundred and something dollars for us to go to a decent hotel. And I had to do that for three months before we got our house.
[clip of Voter 2]: Rent has gone up, uh, a few hundred dollars within the last, last couple years. That’s pretty big amount for, for a family to have to incur.
[clip of Voter 3]: I don’t understand when there’s no rent control in the state. I really don’t. I was rent for so long and if I had to rent right now. It’d be hard because you know, the wages aren’t going up, but yet housing is—
[clip of Voter 4]: I can’t think of somebody like graduating college, let’s say 20- or 30-year-old, how they can buy a house now with a $50,000 a year income. Because the prices have gone up so much.
[clip of Voter 5]: Well, gas prices and groceries going up.
[clip of Voter 6]: It’s just furious because the way they use this pandemic to, this takes advantage of the situation. Inflation makes millionaire more millionaire.
[clip of Voter 3]: Climate change people like it’s hypothetical or it’s not real, but being in Vegas, we don’t see any rain. We see extreme weather. I, I think about that because my kids what’s gonna happen in 30 years, 40 years. What are they? What are they gonna inherit when I’m gone?
Jon Favreau: Is anyone else concerned about climate change?
[clip of Voter 5]: The decline in water and just the fact that we share water from like four different states—
[clip of Voter 1]: I mean, and I know it’s probably upset, but the abortion and the gun thing, I, I have a big issue with that. How dare you tell me what to do with my body, but I can’t tell you if you own a gun and then the fact that your gun might kill my kid that goes to school. That’s a big issue for me. Cuz you could tell me, I gotta have a kid, but I can’t tell you. You can own a gun.
Jon Favreau: So I ask this question in every focus group and in every focus group I would say that the cost of living issue that I heard about the most, that politicians talk about the least. Is housing and it was here. Obviously there have been housing issues in Nevada for a long time. I heard it in Orange County from all the young voters that was their top issue housing. Um, I heard it a little bit in Pittsburgh as well and yet we don’t hear that as much in the national political debate. Faiz. Why do you think that is?
Faiz Shakir: Well, first of all, the, some of the policy measures that would be required have have been deemed to be so offensive to the wealthy and the rich landlords. So if you think about the words that were mentioned, rent control, I mean, it’s become almost toxic in many political conversations. The idea of government kind of coming in and imposing a market condition on, on the economy is just so foreign. So, I think it’s become, an issue that particularly among wealthier folks have decided it’s politically toxic and shouldn’t talk about it. But I think what sometimes Democrats forget and is important here is the working class emotions around the issue. Because when you talk about housing, you’re also talking about people who feel a sense of shame. It’s a, it’s a big part of narrative that goes through. It’s like if I can’t provide for my family, I feel a sense of shame for myself. I feel a sense of shame about my children. I feel worried, I feel anxious all the time. That condition is really important to also access when you’re thinking about policy. So not, not only just say, hey, this a policy, here’s an emotion that where people are on the edge, they’re struggling and we gotta connect with it.
Jon Favreau: Carlos, did these answers that you just heard track with the data that you’ve been looking at?
Carlos Odio: You could take the transcript of this focus group. And copy and paste it in any state and with any demographic and people would buy that it’s that, that it’s legit. We’re a divided country. But I would say that the voters are united among a set of concerns. At this point. is the perverse thing about something like rising prices in inflation is that it, everybody feels it, everybody sees it in some way or another, some people more than others but it’s consistent, at their dinner table. It demonstrates that there is this disconnect between the DC discourse and what people are talking about, and the question is, how does our politics become more responsive to those needs? People feel a lot of anxiety. They don’t know what’s gonna happen next. And you have crisis upon crisis, upon crisis. And the challenge for Democrats in this moment is that fairly or not fairly, they’re blaming the people in charge and they perceive Joe Biden to be the person in charge.
Jon Favreau: Ruy. One thing I noticed in this group is that while economic issues came up quite a bit, you also heard people become animated about issues like abortion, guns, climate, and these aren’t liberal Democrats. What do you think about that?
Ruy Teixeira: Mm hmm. Well, I mean, I think if you look at the survey data, uh, it’s pretty clear that Hispanic voters overall are supportive of a moderate position on abortion rights, moderate position on gun control, and generally are in favor of doing something about climate change. The problem is relative salience in my view, I think generally speaking, the issues that are driving them tend to be different. They’re mostly concerned about housing, the cost of living, jobs, healthcare, their kids, their community, other issues are important. And to the extent the Democrats are viewed as being on their side on those kinds of issues, that’s fine. But if the Democrats aren’t viewed as being effective on core issues about housing, about the cost of living, about the way the economy is working, what’s happening with real wages, I mean one way I always think about it or a phrase I like to use is Hispanic voters are normie voters, right? Um, they’re they just want a better life. They wanna move up. Uh, they’re patriotic, uh, they’re here for opportunity as Faiz has been emphasizing and sort of that’s what they wanna take advantage of.
Jon Favreau: Although one, one thing I’ve been, one thing I’ve been wondering as I listen to more voters in these groups is, you know, we tend to like to separate the issues and there’s economic issues. And then there’s sort of cultural issues that are discussed a lot in the media and by elites and, and people tend to care more about economic issues. But what I’m hearing from people on some of these issues now, especially post Dobbs with abortion, is people become animated by issues that really, I mean, it sounds simple but affect their own lives and people who know them in the way that people talk have talked about climate is not the way that a lot of politicians talk about climate, but like, hey, I’m, we’re seeing a drought in our state, right? The way people talk about abortion is, I’m now concerned that someone I know couldn’t get an abortion and had to, had to drive to another state. Or I knew someone who was involved in a, in a mass shooting. I don’t know if Carlos or, or Faiz, you guys have any thoughts on that too.
Faiz Shakir: With any urgent issue and the issues that, you know, any voter might indicate are high salience of them. They wanna know that you are gonna fight on them. And there’s a, there’s this question of how emotionally, resonant and credible you are in that fight. And I think, you know, on the right, what we’re dealing with, there’s people in, particularly in this Trump era, uh, Republican party is that they are embraced friction. They’re often fighting. They’re always yelling. They’re always angry about something and that’s what Trump has brought them to. And if I asked you today, like, hey, what does Joe Biden and what do Democrats really get emotionally fired up about just ponder and reflect. Ask yourself, honestly. And I say that with all due respect to him and to, to the whole party, honestly, like what, what would, what do you think people would think you’d get fired up about? And, and just like, answer that question for yourself for a moment and see where you’re at.
Carlos Odio: I think there’s, there’s a narrative. Sometimes that Latinos are moving toward Republicans because there’s values alignment there of some sort, right. And they reject where Democrats are on some of these cultural issues. And they’re more aligned with Republicans. Where I think is it’s actually closer to what Faiz was just saying in terms of priorities that they perceive that Democrats are not talking about their priorities. Less I would think about rejection on the particular things Democrats are talking about and more just saying the things I care about the most, the things that I’m intense about, you don’t seem to be talking about, meanwhile, these Republicans, well, they don’t seem to give a shit about me, but they are ruthless in prioritizing the economy. And so if I’m gonna vote on that issue, that’s the way I’m going. What I think Democrats miss in these moments is what keeps a majority of Latinos with Democrats above and beyond their demographics is a sense the Democrats care more the question is can Democrats deliver? But it was wild to me while the, while I’m talking in the context of the economy that after Uvalde, you had some arguing that Democrats should just say nothing about guns because on guns, Democrats don’t have a natural advantage. They’re not trusted more. Well, listen, the advantage is that Democrats care more, you gotta lean into the caring and in a, in a moment like that, like Uvalde, when yet these kids being gunned down, if you can’t show care, then you’re undermining the one brand strength you have that is still carrying you forward.
Jon Favreau: So when I asked about most important issues, one person in the group raised immigration, which I know is an issue that some pundits just assume is Latino voters’ top priority, but he did set off a discussion about the issue. Uh, let’s take a listen. Are there other, um, big issues that are debated even either in Nevada or, or nationally that are affecting you personally, that you think about?
[clip of Voter 6]: Well, the immigration issue—
Jon Favreau: Immigration.
[clip of Voter 6]: Yeah. Every person of those that are gonna come here, they’re gonna qualify for welfare food stamps, housing and who’s gonna pay for that?
Jon Favreau: Okay.
[clip of Voter 2]: It seems like chaos, chaos, the Texas border, where you see those big lines under that bridge it’s seems like, like chaos. Maybe, maybe in the past, there was times where, um, immigration policy was kind of heartless where they were, where they were purposely doing things that they knew were gonna kill people to deter them from trying to come over. That’s pretty heartless, but I think now it’s way too, just careless.
[clip of Voter 3]: They need to get a policy and stick with. No matter which party is in charge. I mean, you’ve got kids that are down there that they’re, they’re the ones who have to suffer. You know, they’re just trying to get a better life.
Jon Favreau: How many people think it should be easier to immigrate to the United States? And how many people do you think? Uh, it should be harder to immigrate to the United States?
[clip of Voter 6]: It should be a law. It should be control. It’s not, it’s not easy. I mean, you got people here with 30 years. They’re not criminals. They pay taxes every year. They don’t do drugs. And then these people, they haven’t paid a tax in their life here. They just come over. Except Mexico, because if you’re Mexican, you don’t qualify. Right. But if you’re from any other country, you just come here, put your foot here. Oh, you qualify for everything.
[clip of Voter 1]: How sad it is that all those people died in a truck to come to a country. And we sit up here in this country and talk shit about our own country, how shitty we are. And these people died in a truck to get here so they can have a little bit of what we have. Yeah. That’s sad to me as an American, that all those people lost that and we let it happen.
[clip of Voter 3]: You know, my, my buddy’s married to his wife for 20 years. She’s not a U.S. citizen and they’ve been trying to do it for six years now, immigration lawyers aren’t cheap, you know, and the paperwork to get it. They make it harder in that way too. There should be some kind of way to at least help and assist. So it could be a smoother process and that’s not happening.
Jon Favreau: So it certainly seemed to me that at least in this group, uh, views about immigration are a bit more nuanced and complicated than the political debate we’ve heard over the last few years. Carlos, what do you think?
Carlos Odio: Jon, there is so much there, there’s the border and there’s this idea of a pathway to citizenship. And we try to conflate all of these things as being one thing, but the border’s really a different issue in voters’ minds, especially in Latino voters’ minds, where it’s more, as you heard in, they talked about in the group as a concern about public safety, a concern about order, concerned about resources. At the same time. And I’d say, this is a category, that’s the plurality of Latino voters in our polling, both believe in increased border security and a pathway to citizenship. You heard it they’re separating between, do something about the border, but also take care of the people who are already here. And so, it is a both and, now what Democrats have done of late is none of the above. And so in fact, among Latino voters, The president’s worst numbers across all of our states on issue areas is immigration because the border crowd, the pathway assistantship crowd and the both crowd, all disapprove in action has led to disapproval. And so this thing that helped differentiate between the parties among Latino voters is no longer has that power. The key swing voters don’t see a meaningful difference between the parties on this issue. At least in believing that Democrats would actually do anything about it.
Ruy Teixeira: But I think we, um, we, we have a problem in the democratic party where not only, obviously not much progress is being made on, on a path to citizenship, but there’s a real resistance to trying to do anything that smacks at border security. This is a big loser for the Democrats in general. And I, I think, and even among Hispanic voters, because that’s, that’s not their preference structure. They wanna see order at the border. They think there should be a fair and humane system for people to come to this country and then work their way up. This is a nation of immigrants, and we need to have a functioning rule rule-based immigration system that gives people a fair chance to come here.
Faiz Shakir: What I hear now is like a desperation in those voices, you see people yearning and hungry for somebody to own the political struggle that is required to try to solve the problem and to grapple with the difficulties of governing it. And to tell each side like, hey, you can’t all get, okay, what you want. Especially when you get into south Texas and you talk to some of those communities, they, they live with it as a crisis and they, and, and they live with it as a sense of public safety. You know, I remember who’ve gone down there and for Jessica Cisneros and we’re working on the campaign, Bernie, Bernie and I were meeting with so many people and they were expressing just generally concerned about the crops and the animals and, uh, you know, break-ins, and it was very much a sense of, I, I don’t feel safe and if they don’t feel like you’re even, addressing their safety, right. Then you’re not accessing their, their emotion, their feeling about the issue.
Jon Favreau: After the break, the voters tell us how they really feel about politics, parties, and politicians.
Jon Favreau: Welcome back. After talking with the Las Vegas group about the issues that mattered most to them, we got into politics. I started by asking these voters how they felt about politics and the state of the country.
[clip of Voter 6]: I feel bad. Bad.
[clip of Voter 3]: Okay. Just off, just off.
[clip of Voter 7]: Depending on the subject furious.
[clip of Voter 1]: Disgusted.
[clip of Voter 4]: Terrible, horrible.
[clip of Voter 5]: I mean, I guess I’m just confused. There’s a lot of open sides to everything.
[clip of Voter 3]: I, I look back when Reagan and Tip O’Neill. Polar opposites, but yet they always came to a way to. Come together and make policy work. We don’t do that anymore. It’snot America anymore. It’s not it’s two separate parties that are basically saying we’re not gonna make you look good. Even if it suffers the American people.
Jon Favreau: Why do you think both parties are so divided?
[clip of Voter 3]: think it’s a power trip. I really think that they want to control like Nancy Pelosi. She should have been gone a while back and then you’ve got, um, McConnell. Why are they still there? There should be term limits. I mean, you not it’s like how many times can you play an album? On a stereo turntable til it starts, the it’s not as good as it once sounded and still starts fading off the quality. And that’s what it’s like with those guys, bring in some new blood.
[clip of Voter 4]: Yeah. Politicians. They, they promise you a lot of things, but then when they get in there, I don’t see the results a lot of times, you know.
[clip of Voter 5]: Yeah. So, um, cause it gets way too confusing, way too quick. And there’s a lot of, perspectives of how I’m supposed to like live my life and different like policies that are going out that it just feels way too stressful. I’m not about to go and put that into my mind and then have like. These like households, chores and task and, work that I have to focus on. So.
Jon Favreau: Faiz. Do you think that the surprising flurry of activity in Washington of late, um, might have some kind of effect on these voters’ views about politics or the state of the country?
Faiz Shakir: Well, yes, it’s nice to pass bills and it’s nice to show government working, but then you know, you, you go out there and you start talking to regular working class people, and you say, Hey, we passed historic thing to reduce prescription drug prices in America. So if you’re, somebody in the suburbs, you got a nice six figure income, not really worried about prescription drug costs in your life. And you hear that. You’re happy. Hey, my team, the Democrats, we did something good for the world. Now, what if you’re a person living on the edge, who really needs prescription drug costs to go down. It’s eating away at your life. You stress about it and you go and tell that person, we reduce prescription drug costs in America. And they look at every penny on that prescription drug cost that they have, and they don’t see anything happen. Nothing has happened and nothing will happen right. For another few years the gap between a Democrat and a working person will just grow. They will hear you saying I did something for your life. Meanwhile, they’re looking at their prescription drug costs staying the same or going higher. It is fine to be honest and direct about saying we passed these important measures and in 2025, this will happenm 2026 this will happened. It was historic. It was hard. We fought big pharma. But here’s like, how you gotta conclude that sentence. And if you put us back in office, here’s what I wanna do next. And I’m gonna continue to take those guys on, and I’m gonna advocate for these next two, three reforms that will have even more impact in reducing your prescription drug costs. And the reason I have credibility about that is because I did it. I just did it in the last two, two years when you put us into office, but I, my work is not yet done. You gotta put me back so I can keep taking on these bastards and keep delivering for you.
Jon Favreau: Carlos. I was struck by that last comment. Uh, it was from a young woman named Daisy about how politics feels confusing and stressful, and she’s just too busy working to pay attention. It seems like she’s exactly the kind of person Democrats need to reach, but how do we reach her if she’s not paying attention to politics or it’s too confusing?
Carlos Odio: That’s a great question. And it’s, you know, it’s typical in focus groups to hear people say, well, you know, I don’t know what to believe. They have a hard time seeing through the news fog. And so they turn off the news. And I think in that case, there’s a small number of things that are really going to break through. Going into the geographies where our voters live. A lot of the organizing ends up getting clustered in very urban areas. We aren’t going into the spots where voters actually live. And then similarly, we’re not going where they communicate online. So YouTube is a major source of news and information for Latino voters, Latinos actually spend twice as much time as non-Latinos on YouTube. But on some circles, YouTube is seen as like beneath us, right, from an organizing standpoint. And it’s not like the cool place to organize and it takes a very big investment. And so when people want to know about an issue, what is going on with gas prices, if they’re going on YouTube, the information that is helping them make sense of the world is largely coming from the right wing or is just not there.
Jon Favreau: I asked about people’s views of both political parties and which party was better for working people. Here’s what they said.
[clip of Voter 6]: I used to vote Democrat all the time, but in the second term, Obama, I, I just move to the Republican.
Jon Favreau: What made you change?
[clip of Voter 6]: Because for the workers, for me, it’s my opinion. The Republicans is better, but if you on welfare and food stamps and, and government, help, if you qualify for that, you good with Obama. And your health, your health insurance. It went out with Obama. It’s too expensive. So that to me, the Republicans, uh, they’re better for the people that work. If you work.
Jon Favreau: That’s a, that’s a great question that I was about to ask. Which party do you think is a better party for working people? Sergio you think Republican, uh, Robert, what do you think?
[clip of Voter 3]: It depends on your income bracket. Unless you’re in corporate’s, um, position, so I’d say Democrats, Democrats.
[clip of Voter 2]: I would say Republicans now, but I’d say it used to be Democrats.
Jon Favreau: Vince?
[clip of Voter 7]: Democrat.
Jon Favreau: Eric? Republican?
[clip of Voter 5]: I mean, I don’t really know the difference to be honest.
Jon Favreau: Ruy. Why do you think, uh, people like Sergio and Cesar have changed their views on which party is better for working people?
Ruy Teixeira: So I think a lot of the way people vote between political parties depends on sort of a, a long term weighted assessment of who’s been better for you and your family and the kind of people, you know, and when that starts to decay under the oppressive circumstance, the picture becomes cloudy and you can sort of move away from your traditional loyalties. As I’ve mentioned before, Democrats seem to be getting sort of more preoccupied with issues in the sociocultural realm. And they seem to be less interested or less focused on the problems of working people. So I think frequently that just leads to a sense of frustration where even if they like the Democrats a bit better than the Republicans, it’s not that they have a great deal of faith in them. And then there are some people who are just gonna conclude the opposite. The Republicans are better, and there are some people who throw up their hands and say, you know, I don’t know. I mean, things don’t seem to change that much, no matter who’s in charge.
Jon Favreau: Faiz. What do you think? I feel like, uh, these are some of the very same voters, who Bernie was trying to reach.
Faiz Shakir: You know, obviously the Democrats are less of a Labor Party now than probably it’s kind of historic and storied past. And that’s part of the problem, in the first six months of this administration coming in the midst of the pandemic, we had progressive economics. Jon, you remember it really well. We had the stimulus, we had unemployment insurance, expansion, child tax credits. Pandemic, food relief for people. It was a, a whole bunch of things to lift folks and then inflation hit and inflation hit pretty hard in August. And I think we lost the narrative around. What, uh, what did you cause inflation right. I mean, that, that was the more natural question that everyone’s got. How did inflation come about. And was it your fault that you did all these nice things for working class people? You know, Donald Trump, if you go back and look at his rhetoric, just not policy, just look at as rhetoric that guy talked about, corporations named them by name, blasted them on Twitter, blasted them in public speeches more than probably any modern president in history. And so if you’re a worker at any of those companies and you take all those companies by name what do you hear that president has taken on my boss? Holy moly. That guy’s taking on my boss.
Jon Favreau: Carlos, obviously there’s a lot of data that shows Republican gains among Latino voters are concentrated among specifically a working class, and also, folks, without a college degree. Do you think this is economic in nature? And do you think a message like, Faiz just delivered would help sort of bring these voters back into the fold?
Carlos Odio: I mean, at most you’re talking about 25% of Latino voters being college educated. So when we say that the trends happen mostly among non-college, like I think it obscures sometimes more than elucidates because we’re talking about an overwhelming majority here of the vote. I think the challenge is we ask ourselves, well, what’s moving people toward Trump? And I think the better question is to start with the first half of it, which is what constrained them in the past? Because Joe Biden still won a majority of non-college Latinos. So there’s still something that’s holding this all together. What is held back other more conservative, looking Latinos, people who by demographics, you’d say these look like they might be Republicans and that’s where I think there’s a challenge in thinking that the argument should be entirely economic, right? Obviously I think Latinos care about the same things everybody else cares about, but this idea that we should go colorblind, that Democrats should, erase racial and ethnic identity from the question, even though that has been central to what kept Latinos in those large numbers voting for Democrats, I think part of the narrative about the working class is part of a global trend that we’re talking about, right? The right wing parties have kind of taken over the working class and what is left is kind of liberal elites plus and this is the part that kind of gets left out minority parties and the children of immigrants. So there’s still something about being a minority and feeling othered within a country. That is still very potent. And so we can’t just reduce this to materialist concerns in this moment.
Jon Favreau: We finally get to the midterms and I asked about, one of the most competitive Senate races in the country, between Democrat, Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican Adam Laxalt. Uh, here’s what these voters are thinking.
[clip of Voter 3]: Laxalt’s got too much baggage.
Jon Favreau: What kind of baggage?
[clip of Voter 3]: Well, when he was in office here, there was some talk investigations, but, um, I think for him, he’s just more inclined to take more PAC money. I think he’s gonna go ahead and take money from the corporate. More, she will. And I think he’d be more influenced by them. And also the big lie that I know people think that, but facts are facts. You’ve got all these people endorsing this big lie, it turns me off big time.
Jon Favreau: Um, Caesar, what do you have you made up your mind on Laxalt or Masto?
[clip of Voter 2]: I don’t think I know enough yet, but, um, probably Laxalt. Um, Masto doesn’t seem sincere, or genuine to me, she seems like a, like a new Democrat team player. And she just, whatever, whatever the party line is, that’s what, that’s what she’s gonna do. And I don’t, I don’t respect that in politician.
[clip of Voter 7]: I haven’t picked one out yet.
Jon Favreau: You haven’t picked one out yet. What, what would make you decide? What sort of, uh, what are you looking for in a, in a candidate or are there issues that would, uh, make you help you decide?
[clip of Voter 7]: I guess keep their word and do what they’re gonna do. Instead of the big lie.
Jon Favreau: Carlos. I was, after hearing them say that, uh, the media covered January 6th, too much. I was also surprised to hear them. A couple of them say that the big lie embrace of the big lie was, uh, disqualifying. What do you make of, uh, of that and sort of this race is there advice you’d give to the Masto campaign? Would you highlight Laxalt’s extremism? What would you do?
Carlos Odio: Yeah, Cortez Masto is an interesting case, right? Because, um, even though she herself is Latina, she wasn’t particularly well known in Latino community previous to this cycle. And so she’s kind of had to reintroduce herself and she does have some attributes that seem to appeal to Hispanic voters that kind of set her apart from a generic Democrat. Even things she’s done around, for example, human trafficking, that kind of take her out of the realm of just DC talking points and your typical MSNBC issue agenda, um, and differentiate her and show her as a person of action. And then Laxalt, in some ways Democrats drew the best person they could in Laxalt. I mean, what you hear in focus groups, that we’ve done in this day is just guy seen as something of a zero, right. Somewhat boring. Um, and the attributes about him that are more exciting are the fact that he’s very much a Trump guy. And so in some ways, this is one of the hardest races Democrats have right now, but so far things have fallen slightly better configuration at least, as it concerns the Latino electorate.
Jon Favreau: Faiz? In addition to having, uh, run a campaign that won in Nevada caucus, you were also a Harry Reid staffer. So you know, the state, well.
Faiz Shakir: Two thoughts that come to the top of my mind is that Nevada’s a strong labor state. Culinary is strong there. It’s baffling to me that more Democrats aren’t talking about the Starbucks and Amazon organizers and others. It’s like one of the most generationally important things that’s happened. And I don’t think any Democrat ever really talks about it, but you can imagine that for a strong labor orientation in Nevada, it would be very persuasive. Number two is like housing. You’re going back to the first comment that you raised, how do you get attention? How do you break through in a narrative? Sometimes it’s just start talking about things that other people aren’t talking about. If you look actually in Nevada, there are housing ordinance and, and ballot measures that are trying to be pushed through in various parts of the, of that state. So all you gotta do is try to keep your base engaged, get your message out, get Democrats, understanding your credibility, your desires, your fight, your empathy, your goals. And I think she should do all right, but she’s got some work to do.
Jon Favreau: So I usually end by asking the group, uh, to talk about their dream candidate. Someone they’d be excited to vote for. Uh, this group gave one of the more interesting sets of responses I’ve heard. Let’s listen. If you could assemble your dream candidate, what qualities would that candidate have that you’d be excited to vote for that person for president United States?
[clip of Voter 3]: You know, when Trump first ran, I liked him because he would always tell, he had no influence. He’d like be in the middle. Nobody had any say what he would do any decision making. So like, I’d want an independent candidate. That’s not gonna have influence from outside parties, resources, but it’s not gonna ever happen. But, you know, I want someone who’s gonna be able to make decision on what he thinks best for the country. Not best for his party. Or her party.
Jon Favreau: Okay. Uh, Eric, what about you?
[clip of Voter 4]: Yeah, I think Trump as a, as a younger guy. If he was, let’s say his kids would go run or something, you know, I’d vote for him.
Jon Favreau: A younger Trump. Annss, what about you?
[clip of Voter 1]: Integrity and personal integrity, not just integrity for their party, but to really have, because if you have personal integrity, you you’ll do what’s best instead of going with your party.
Jon Favreau: Daisy, what about you?
[clip of Voter 5]: Um, I like what you said about, how Trump was like, talking about not being influenced. I liked that just going off for like surprise, not really going, I don’t know, like according to like everyone else’s opinions or just like pressured.
[clip of Voter 6]: A strong character like Trump. I mean, I don’t like half of, I don’t like half of his views, this, but the other, some of the stuff.
Jon Favreau: Here’s the, here’s the truly weird part. Just so everyone listening knows how complicated voters can be. The, the first man you heard Robert said he liked Trump because he seemed like he was in the middle and he wasn’t being influenced by anyone. Robert later said that, uh, he couldn’t vote for Trump again, and that he’s leaning toward Ron DeSantis in 2024. But then he said that he loves quote, “loves AOC and thinks she’d be a great Speaker.” And he said, because she has stood up to Nancy Pelosi and her party, and he respects that kind of integrity. Can anyone make sense of a voter, who’s leaning towards Ron DeSantis, but loves AOC and hope she’ll be Speaker. Anyone wanna take that?
Faiz Shakir: Uh, I feel like we should start with the diagnosis of Trump. I think what sometimes is missed about the original intent of Trump is that the, the sales pitch is not that I was a disruptor who was gonna revolutionarily bring down this government the aspirational pitch of Trump for many of these voters, that worked is I’m a businessman. I did well in life. I don’t need this job. I gamed this system for myself. I know how this system is corrupt. I know how it works and now I’m gonna game it for you. People are looking for at the end of the day, trust in an elected official to do the things that they don’t have, the time patience or inclination to give a damn about like, hey, I elected you, you go figure this shit out. Give me somebody who wants to come in here, tell me that they’re gonna take on some powerful people, be a disruptor, but do it for me. They’re basically giving you the pulse of populism of their lived condition of real lives. And if you tap that that’s good populism that you can marshal for good politics. Otherwise, people are gonna move towards the authoritarian autocrats who wanna disrupt this stuff because the whole government ain’t worth shit. That’s the argument.
Jon Favreau: Ruy, what do you think about it?
Ruy Teixeira: Um, people are, are thirsty for someone who basically hates and will bash and is different from the elites who they believe are running the country and running it into the ground and don’t really care about them. Why would someone simultaneously like DeSantis and AOC? Well, AOCs out there bashing people too. They like the fact that she’s seems, you know, sort of unleashed, she just tells it like it is she, she’s not afraid of saying stuff that’s really unpopular. So does it hang together coherently as an ideology? No, not at all, but let’s never forget people like us whose ideologies hang together are really weird. Most people’s, you know, have a lot of views that are contradictory all, all over the place. But we have to realize that if they don’t hear someone who’s making that kind of pitch who convinces them, they’re not just another one of the elites. They can go in a bad direction.
Jon Favreau: Carlos we’ll end with you. You know, you, you said earlier, Democrats sort of need to show that they care across not just economic issues, but a whole host of issues. Can showing that you care, can that exist along some of the populism that both Faiz and Ruy are talking about where you are bashing some, powerful people?
Carlos Odio: Absolutely cause you know, it’s care and it’s deliver. And what Republicans have for them is the ruthlessness. And so in general, I think someone has equated in the past as trying to stand on a plank or a seesaw, which is you need to have a strong stance on both sides. You need to take strong positions, um, but on both sides in a way that kind of balances you out. And I think people are looking for people who subvert their expectations, who aren’t just saying what they would expect to come out of the mouth of an average Democrat or an average Republican. And so what Democrats, the challenge for them right now is showing that they have the care but show they got a little of that ruthlessness in them too.
Ruy Teixeira: Message I care, but I’m ruthless! [laughter]
Faiz Shakir: Muscularity matters.
Jon Favreau: I care ruthlessly.
Ruy Teixeira: All right. We figured it out here. We figured it out.
Jon Favreau: Uh, Faiz, Ruy, Carlos, thank you so much.
[various voices]: It was fun / Thanks for having me.
Jon Favreau: Latino political strategists will often make the point that the Latino community is not a monolith. In fact, all 50 states have seen growth in their Latino populations in the last decade. And these communities stem from over 20 countries. It’s precisely because this growing demographic is so diverse that it’s foolish and even insulting to make assumptions about Latinos’ partisan loyalties or policy priorities. Ruy argues that Latino voters – especially working-class Latinos like the people I spoke to in Vegas – are “normie” voters, which he defines as voters who aren’t very partisan and care mostly about their jobs, their cost of living, the quality of their schools, and the safety of their communities. And certainly, that’s a lot of what we heard from these voters. And it’s the same thing we heard from other struggling voters who don’t follow politics that closely. None of these voters have much faith in the political system because they don’t feel like the system has made life better for people like them – people who aren’t rich. But Carlos makes a persuasive argument that it would also be a mistake for the Democratic Party to just ignore the racial and ethnic identities of Latino voters – especially when so many right-wing xenophobes are using those identities to marginalize and exclude Latino Americans from the country they love and call home. It’s true that views about immigration among Latino voters may be more complicated than some pundits and activists assume, especially around border issues, and especially among Latinos who live in border communities. We certainly heard concerns about public safety and fairness from these voters. But we also heard empathy and compassion for immigrants who have risked everything to come here in search of a better life. These voters may not have much faith in American politics right now, but they still believe in the American Dream – not just because it holds the promise of opportunity, but because it does so regardless of what you look like, or where you come from, or what language you speak. And what they really want are leaders who are actually willing to fight for that promise – who are relentlessly focused on the issues we heard about in Vegas. If Democratic candidates don’t show that kind of fight, there’s a real danger that these voters could either give Republicans a chance or give up on politics altogether, a trend we’ve seen in the last few elections. People like Melanie are doing their best to make sure that doesn’t happen. In August, the North Las Vegas City Council actually struck down the rent control initiative, so despite all their hard work and the overwhelming support from the community, it won’t be on the ballot this fall.
Melanie Arizmendi: It’s very frustrating. Cause they put a lot of work towards that. It’s like a slap in the face.
Jon Favreau: But Melanie and the organizers aren’t giving up that easily. The Culinary Union says that they’re gonna keep talking to voters, and that they plan to run what they’re calling the largest field program in Nevada history.
Melanie Arizmendi: We’re gonna strike harder. We’re going to take this to Clark County. We’re not gonna just give up here. We’re going to make it bigger.
Jon Favreau: So the Culinary Union is now going door to door collecting signatures for a county-wide version of their rent-control proposal. But, as Melanie learned, none of that matters if they can’t elect leaders who will support these types of policies. So they’ll also be working to elect candidates up and down the ballot who will finally do something about the cost of housing – from Catherine Cortez Masto and Steve Sisolak to their local city council members.
Catherine Cortez Masto: It’s not just about making history. It’s about ensuring that we have a seat at the table to get something done! Right? Because I’ll tell you what, don’t you think it’s about time that we had diversity in the United States Senate?
Melanie Arizmendi: Every day matters. There’s so little time and we have to make sure we talk to everyone that we can. As far as I see on the doors, a lot of people they’ve given up. They don’t think it’s gonna help to go vote. And we have to tell them why it’s so important to go vote. Why, why we’re out here in the heat. You know, we’re not out here for no reason.
Jon Favreau: They’re out there because of what voting can do – because of what it can change. It’s the reason that so many people have fought so long and so hard for access to the ballot. It’s why they’re still fighting.
Symone Sanders-Townsend: When we say things like our democracy is under attack, we are living in a climate crisis, people of color, particularly Black people in America are hit first and worse by all of those things. So we also know that we can’t afford not to vote. I think the question on the table is you’ve told them to vote. They’ve been voting and what have we gotten for our vote? That’s what you hear from folks.
Jon Favreau: Next week, for our final episode, we talk to Black voters in Atlanta, Georgia, where organizers are battling cynicism and suppression in a place that’s become central in the struggle to save our democracy. See you then.
Jon Favreau: The Wilderness is an original podcast from Crooked Media. Season 3 is produced by Dustlight Productions. I’m your host, Jon Favreau. From Crooked Media, our executive producers are Sarah Geismer, Katie Long and me. Special thanks to Alison Falzetta and Andie Taft for production support, and to Mike Kulisheck from Benenson Strategy Group who helped us with our focus groups. From Dustlight, our executive producer is Misha Euceph. Arwen Nicks is our executive editor. Stephanie Cohn is the senior producer. Tamika Adams is the producer and Franchesca Diaz is the Assistant Producer. This episode was sound designed by Stephanie Cohn. Valentino Rivera is our senior engineer. Martin Fowler is the composer. Thanks to our development and operations coordinator at Dustlight, Rachael Garcia and to Chrissy Maron for archival legal review. If you want to learn more about how you can take action in the fight for our democracy, head over to votesaveamerica.com/midterms.