Skip Navigation

Top stories of 2023: Fast-growing segment of Latino voters shapes up as key target for 2024 elections

  • Gabriela Martínez/WITF
The 2023 Pennsylvania Latino Convention was held at the Hilton Hotel in Harrisburg.

 Gabriela Martinez / WITF

The 2023 Pennsylvania Latino Convention was held at the Hilton Hotel in Harrisburg.

The run-up to the 2024 election has experts scrambling to understand what voters want in the swing state of Pennsylvania, where a few percentage points could determine the presidential race. As the fastest-growing demographic in the state, Latinos are in the spotlight. 

A new survey found that about one in five Latinos casting a ballot in Pennsylvania for the presidential election next year is expected to be doing so for the first time. 

UnidosUS and Mi Familia Vota – two groups focused on Latino civic engagement – partnered with a firm that studies demographic trends to interview 3,037 Latino eligible voters across Pennsylvania. Among those interviewed, 330 were not eligible voters.

About 37% of respondents said they “definitely consider” themselves Democrats and 32% said they “lean Democrat.” Six percent said they were “definitely” Republican and 7% said they lean toward that party. Nearly 17% said they were independent, from another party or not affiliated to any party.

Gary Segura, co-founder of BSP Research – the firm that analyzed the data – said the survey responses show jobs and the economy, inflation, health care, and crime and gun violence are top issues for Latino voters in Pennsylvania. Concerns with jobs and the economy are largely focused on the need for better pay.

“Latinos are often worried that their jobs don’t pay well enough, or they have to take a second job in order to make ends meet,” Segura said.

When it comes to healthcare concerns, the cost of health insurance premiums, and the cost of prescription drugs are the main worries for these voters, Segura said.

This reflects concerns some Latino grassroots groups have observed. Diana Robinson, civic engagement director for Make the Road Pennsylvania, said the organization’s Latino members say wages and inflation, as well as education and public safety, are issues that affect their everyday lives.

“A lot of people are focused on having good neighborhoods, having good schools that are safe and that they can feel good about their kids going out to play or going to school,” Robinson said.

Make the Road Pennsylvania has organized voter campaigns to push for a raise to the state’s minimum wage and equitable funding for school districts and other issues that often impact low-income immigrants in the labor force.


Immigration did not rank among the top five concerns for Latino voters in Pennsylvania, according to the UnidosUS survey.

“That’s due to the fact that a substantial portion of Pennsylvania Latinos are not, in fact, immigrants but they are migrants from or descendants of migrants from the island of Puerto Rico, which is part of the U.S.,” Segura said. “However, Puerto Ricans have often shown themselves to be very pro-immigrant and very pro-immigration reform.”

Some of the top immigration concerns for survey respondents were creating policy that establishes a path to citizenship for Dreamers and for other immigrants who have lived in the country for a long time. 

For Esvin Maldonado, a dairy worker who has lived and worked in Franklin County for more than 20 years, immigration is a top concern. 

Maldonado came to the Capitol for a rally in favor of legislation that would allow immigrants to drive legally in the state, regardless of their status. He has faced challenges getting to work because his immigration status doesn’t allow him to get a license. During the Covid-19 pandemic, he was considered an essential worker, and was required to show up every day to work despite health risks.

“I think it’s important because if we were essential during the pandemic, we should be essential all the time,” Maldonado said. “We keep Pennsylvania’s economy running.”

According to 2018 Census data, immigrant labor makes up 18 percent of Pennsylvania’s workforce in the areas of farming, forestry and fishing.

Some Latino Republican Pennsylvania voters favor a more practical and careful approach to immigration that can address border security and legal pathways for immigrants who want to earn a living in the United States.

Marcela Myers, deputy chair of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, feels there is a misconception about the GOP having an anti-immigration stance. For Myers, the gist of the Republican party’s message on immigration is that it needs to happen according to an orderly process that gives people the opportunity to come to the United States “in the right way.”

“We are in a humanitarian crisis. There’s so many things that happen at the border, there is a tremendous amount of sex trafficking,” Myers said. “As a citizen of the United States, I personally feel that that is something that we cannot accept. We cannot allow people coming through the border and being exploited as it’s happening right now. 

“We can’t just dump 2,000 students in one school district, kids that don’t speak the language, and without bringing them infrastructure, enough resources to, to deal with that.”

She supports immigration reform that expands opportunities for people to come to the U.S. on worker visas, and says that there needs to be a study to determine what areas of the economy are in need of  more workers.

Edelmiro Santana, a truck driver and Pentecostal pastor at the first bilingual church in Harrisburg, is a Republican voter. Santana, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, said that, because he was born with U.S. citizenship, there are many aspects of the immigration experience he cannot understand. But he thinks there are better ways for immigrants to come to the United States without risking their lives.

“The reality is that there are processes for people who want to come into this country and be productive in this country, which is a country of opportunities,” Santana said. “I don’t think this has to do with one party or the other, the left or the right, this is someone that involves sitting down at the table and working it out.”

Other recent polling suggests Latino voters want more action and less rhetoric when it comes to key immigration topics, such as creating a pathway for citizenship for immigrant youth and families who have lived in the country a long time.

Another poll led by Immigration Hub and conducted by B.S.P Research surveyed 2,000 voters across states and congressional districts considered “battleground areas,” which refers to areas where both Republicans or Democrats could win. It found most voters feel Republicans are not creating inroads with Latino voters when it comes to immigration policy. Researchers surveyed  200 randomly chosen Latino voters across Pennsylvania. 

“What the poll found was that, so far, Latino voters view Republicans as just constantly attacking, but not proposing any of their own solutions,” said Matt Barreto, president and co-founder of B.S.P Research and a professor at UCLA.

Furthermore, the poll shows 80% of Latinos support a “balanced” approach to immigration that would increase resources and security at the U.S.-Mexico border, and would also provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and undocumented immigrants who have been living and working in the U.S. for a long time. 

Barreto said the survey was created to provide comparisons across battleground states, and that was not designed to be only focused on Pennsylvania. That is why 200 was the adequate sample size to study whether voter attitudes are consistent across different states. Barreto estimated that about half of those surveyed were Democrats and about a third were Republicans. The rest were independent or were not affiliated with a party.

According to voter data compiled by Televisa Univision, 387,389 out of 7,629,411 people who voted in the Pennsylvania 2022 midterm election were Hispanic. Fifty-nine percent of those voters were Democrats, 19% were Republicans and 22% were independent or other.

Not an ‘afterthought’

Another main takeaway from the Unidos US poll was that Latinos feel Republicans and Democrats need to do better outreach in Latino communities. It found that, while 57% of Latinos said that the Democratic Party cares a great deal about them, 37% said the party does not “care too much about Latinos.”

“It’s kind of a neutral, disinterested position,” Segura said.

One in five respondents said Republicans “care a great deal” about Latinos, while 29% said Republicans are “being hostile” to the community. About half said Republicans “do not care too much.”

“The level of hostility directed towards Latinos, by the two political parties, is noted and it’s felt,” Segura said. “That said, there is still a substantial climate of Latinos who think the Democratic Party is pretty indifferent to them, doesn’t care too much.”

Some say this ambivalence toward both parties has to do with insufficient outreach.

“Oftentimes, both sides of the party, the Republicans and or Democrat, take the Latino vote for granted,” said Angel Figueroa, a Reading-based political consultant who works with Latino political candidates. “From a national perspective, they tend to wait to put monies and resources into the Latino community until the ninth hour.”

Diana Robinson, who focuses on increasing civic engagement in Pennsylvania Latino communities, has noticed the same pattern. She says voters, especially younger voters who may be voting for the first time or are new to the country, feel dissatisfied with both parties or “feel that they are an afterthought.”

“Latino voters are voters who need to be persuaded,” Robinson said. “I think, oftentimes, it’s not seen that way, because we have this vicious cycle that’s like, ‘Well, they don’t turn out to vote, so they don’t matter,’ I think one of the reasons that people don’t turn out to vote is because they don’t feel confident that they have the information they need to make the best decision for themselves.”

This echoes a concern expressed by Daniel Encarnacion, a voter who has lived in Reading for four years. He also noted that language barriers are an issue for Latinos who might be considering voting. 

“There’s a lot of misinformation,” Encarnacion said. “If a candidate wants to reach a community, there should be an effort to provide more information to the community. Sometimes because we lack language skills, they want to put us aside.”

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Up Next
Politics & Policy

Pa. begins funding criminal defense for those who cannot afford an attorney