Expert Commentary

Drop in voter turnout among Hispanic Democrats linked to home foreclosures

Lagging home values and high foreclosure rates among Hispanic Democrats helped shift Florida from a blue state in 2012 to a red one in 2016, study finds.

home mortgage foreclosure Florida Hispanics
(Jeff Turner/Flickr)

Lagging home values and high foreclosure rates among Hispanics, one of the nation’s largest voting blocs, helped Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election in Florida, a new study finds.

The analysis, which looks at how homeownership affected the election, offers fresh insights into the habits of Hispanic voters. Sociologist Jacob Rugh examined the voting patterns of Florida homeowners who took out mortgage loans between 2005 and 2007 — the first few years of the nationwide housing crisis that prompted the most recent economic recession.

Rugh finds that Hispanics were much more likely than white or black homeowners to enter foreclosure and end up underwater on their home mortgages, owing more than than their properties were worth. By 2016, half of the Hispanic borrowers he studied had entered foreclosure. Nearly 70% were underwater on their mortgages.

The financial strain seems to have impacted Hispanic groups differently, however. Hispanic Democrats and independents who had lost homes or home equity were less likely to vote in 2016, compared with Hispanic Democrats and independents who did not experience such losses, according to the study, “Vanishing Wealth, Vanishing Votes? Latino Homeownership and the 2016 Election in Florida.” Hispanic Republicans, on the other hand, showed up at the polls, regardless of any lost wealth.

“The housing crisis made Latino Democrats and independents stay home,” explains Rugh, an associate professor at Brigham Young University.

There could be a host of reasons why these voters skipped the election, he says. For example, some might have moved and were missed by voter turnout efforts. After losing their homes to foreclosure, some may have become renters, who generally are less likely to vote. Rugh says some of these voters might have lost trust in public institutions such as elections after facing potential discrimination in the housing market.

Rugh initially studied homeowners in the Orlando region, examining 11,377 home mortgage loans recorded in Orange County, Florida. He matched them with voter registration data from December 2015 as well as 2016 election reports. After expanding his scope, Rugh found the same voter behavior patterns at the state level.

The share of Hispanics who voted Republican was larger in 2016 than it had been in 2012 while the share of Hispanics who voted as Democrats or independents fell — helping shift Florida from a blue state in 2012 to a red one in 2016.

While Florida’s housing challenges may have affected white voters differently than Hispanic voters, those challenges seem to have also prompted a greater share of white voters to choose Republican candidates. “In contrast to the pattern among Latinos, a lagging housing recovery may have potentially led more White voters to vote or switch their vote to the Republican candidate,” Rugh writes in the paper.

He points out that his findings are “consistent with other research that finds White voters who perceived themselves to be left behind in the economic recovery were more likely to vote for the Republican candidate, including White Democrats who switched votes from 2012 to 2016.”

Florida’s 2016 presidential and gubernatorial elections were close. About 4.5 million voters picked Hillary Clinton for president while 4.6 million selected Trump, according to the official vote count from the Federal Election Commission. Meanwhile, Republican Ron DeSantis won the governor’s seat with 49.6% of the vote. His Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, received 49.2%.

Rugh says his research has implications for Hispanic political engagement in future elections, especially in parts of the country that are like Florida, which was hit hard by the housing crisis and has been slow to recover. The researcher says he examined data from Nevada as part of a separate project and found that many Hispanic Democrats and independents there who lost homes through foreclosure or had underwater mortgages also skipped voting in 2016.

He notes that Florida Hispanics’ voting patterns in the 2018 general election mirrored those from 2016. He expects the same for the 2020 election.

“In terms of 2020, these [voting] differences in a place like Florida seem to explain why Republicans do better than expected,” he says.

To prepare for that election, Rugh suggests journalists start asking candidates about their efforts to address voter concerns about housing and homeownership. Candidates who speak to Hispanic voters about these issues “could probably do better with having them turn out,” he says. “It can’t always be about immigration, given the size of the Puerto Rican and Cuban American population who are native-born U.S. citizens.”

Rugh says journalists also should look into whether community organizations are working to help residents overcome housing problems as a way to encourage them to participate in local elections.

Reading his study, forthcoming in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, might generate other story ideas. Here are some other key takeaways:

  • Among Florida Hispanics, those who are legal permanent residents of the United States and have passports were least vulnerable to home foreclosure. “Analyses confirm that Latinos with undocumented identification are by far the most vulnerable,” Rugh writes.
  • Hispanic Republicans seem to behave more like white Republicans than other Hispanics. As the Hispanic population in the U.S. grows, this “holds important racial and electoral implications.”
  • “Results from 2016 and 2018 strongly suggest that a more entrenched pattern of partisanship has taken hold among Florida voters, including Latinos,” Rugh writes. “In Florida, there are relatively few Mexican origin Latinos, yet a disproportionately higher share of Puerto Ricans (more Democratic yet less active), and Cubans and South Americans (more Republican and more active). This mix of Latino nationalities, partisanship, and voter activity … informs the future of elections elsewhere because the century-long wave of Mexican immigration is over and the U.S. Latino population is becoming more native born and less Mexican with each passing year.”


Looking for more research on Hispanic voters? Check out our write-ups on voter identification laws, Spanish-language election materials and minority voting districts

This image was obtained from the Flickr account of Jeff Turner and is being used under a Creative Commons license. No changes were made.

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