It’s official: The Democrats have a Hispanic voter problem.

Support for the party’s presidential ticket among the voting bloc that was supposed to be a linchpin of what John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira memorably dubbed “the emerging Democratic majority” fell from 71% in 2016 to 63% last year even as Joe Biden won the White House, according to the Associated Press.

The numbers cited by Democratic strategist Brad Bannon were similar, showing that Donald Trump's “share of the Hispanic vote increased slightly from 28% to 32%. The Democratic losses among Hispanics were offset by gains among white suburban voters. There probably has been slippage in Hispanic support for Biden since then, and Democrats should be concerned.”

In some key areas, however, the Hispanic swing to the GOP was more dramatic. Both South Texas and South Florida, for instance, saw double-digit increases in Republican support, including as much as 20 points in parts of Miami-Dade County and over 10 in the Rio Grande Valley.

“One important thing to know about the decline in Hispanic support for Democrats is that it was pretty broad,” top Democratic data-cruncher David Shor told New York magazine after the election. “This isn’t just about Cubans in South Florida. It happened in New York and California and Arizona and Texas.”

The situation in the midterm elections could get much worse for Democrats. Both parties were tied in the generic congressional ballot, which asks voters whether they would prefer Democratic or Republican control of Congress, among Hispanics in a stunning poll conducted for the Wall Street Journal. The Democratic share of the Hispanic vote fell from more than 60% to just 37%, with Republicans also taking 37%, while another 22% were undecided.

Fifty-four percent of Hispanics disapproved of the job Biden was doing as president, compared to just 42% who approved. Among Hispanic men, disapproval stood at 61% compared to 38% approval. That led to some equally eye-popping numbers when it came to a hypothetical rematch between Biden and former President Trump: Hispanic voters were nearly evenly split on that question, too.

Biden took just 44% of the Hispanic vote, to 43% for Trump. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 7.6 percentage points. Hispanic men went for Trump by 23 points, giving him 56%. A pronounced gender gap, with Hispanic women breaking 55% to 30% for Biden, keeps it close. But overall, 63% of Hispanic respondents said the economy was headed in the wrong direction to 25% who thought it was going in the right one.

The trend is not entirely new. “We saw this movement starting as far back as 2018 in the run-up to those midterm elections,” said Republican pollster Neil Newhouse. “The shift among Hispanic men was clear, and it seems they were attracted to the strong leadership that President Trump offered.”

“That movement sped up in the ’20 cycle as part of the national debate revolved around the Democrats' lurch toward socialistic policies,” Newhouse added. “Now, with President Biden’s over-reaching policies, Hispanics have pulled back and appear to be gradually shifting their partisan allegiance.”

John Anzalone, the Democratic pollster who worked on the Journal poll, put it another way, telling the outlet: “Latinos are more and more becoming swing voters. … They’re a swing vote that we’re going to have to fight for.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The gradual growth of the Hispanic vote, especially in key battleground states, was expected to help pave the Democrats’ path to power for a generation. California once gave the nation Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. It has become one-party Democratic. Texas and Florida were supposed to follow suit, especially as the Cold War faded in public memories.

Trump was supposed to be a major accelerant of GOP decline. He was widely viewed as hostile to immigrants in general and Latinos in particular. He spoke of rapists coming across the border from Mexico and pledged to build a wall to stop them, at Mexican expense. Even his attempts at outreach to this demographic were off-key, such as posing with a taco salad under the caption, “I love Hispanics!” He defeated two rising Hispanic Republican stars, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, to win the nomination in 2016.

Even some Republicans feared Trump would have an effect on the party’s Hispanic vote share similar to Barry Goldwater’s on the black vote. Goldwater was one of just six Republican senators to vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When he became the party’s presidential standard-bearer that year — challenging President Lyndon Johnson, who signed the bill into law — their black vote percentage tumbled from 32% in 1960 all the way down to 6%. A Republican presidential nominee has never done better than the teens since.

“It did define our party, for at least African American voters, and it still does today. That was a complete shift that occurred that year, and we’ve never been able to get them back,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told CNN in 2016. “So, I think it was a defining moment for Republicans with regard to the accomplishments that we had made for African Americans going back to the Civil War.” When asked if he thought Trump could do similar damage with Hispanics, he replied, “I do.”

Democrats responded by increasing their characterizations of Republicans as racists and lurching leftward on immigration. By 2020, there were Democratic presidential candidates who wanted to decriminalize illegal border crossings. Activists pushed them further still, carrying signs that declared, “No borders, no nations, stop deportations.” Biden instituted a 100-day pause on deportations that has been held up in court, as a migration surge hit the southwestern border. The most fashionable liberals began using the term “Latinx” — Latino, but with a nonbinary gender construction.

Perhaps predicting the ineffectiveness of this strategy, the Pew Research Center found that just 3% of Hispanics used the term. Only 1 in 4 had ever even heard of it. The firm Equis Labs found that while family separation at the border was unpopular with Hispanics, not all of Trump’s immigration policies were. Forty-nine percent even favored reducing legal immigration. Majorities backed additional border security spending and limits to refugees and asylum.

Nearly 4 in 10 of the Hispanics who voted in 2020 expressed concerns about the rise of socialism. For the fourth generation in the United States, that number spiked to 59%. “Concern over socialism does appear to increase the likelihood of voting for Trump, all else being equal,” Equis concluded. “The effect is the highest in Florida but is not contained to Florida.”

The Trump campaign hit these themes especially hard. But socialism wasn’t the only message about government impingement on opportunity that resonated. The business closures that took place during the pandemic also appear to have moved Hispanics, with 66% strongly approving of reopening the economy and 62% wanting COVID policy handled by the states.

“The debate over whether to prioritize the economy or public health in the middle of COVID — a debate that became, for some, about the value of hard work and the American Dream — created a permission structure for formerly hesitant Latinos to embrace Trump’s candidacy,” Equis reported. Daniel Garza, president of the free-market LIBRE Initiative, called the “continuation of a trend of eight to 10 years” of rightward movement by Hispanic voters a “rejection of bad ideas, bad policies and bad results.”

“What that tells me is that Latinos aren’t hardwired to the Left,” Garza said, adding that Biden is continuing to push these voters away. “He even appears indifferent to rising crime, irregular immigration at the border, and inflation.”

It also turned out that some of what made the Trump-era GOP attractive to non-Hispanic, working-class whites drew Hispanics, too. Equis’s polling found the parties tied among Hispanics on who was “better for the American worker.” They were also closely matched on the question of valuing hard work.

The Democrats’ erosion of Hispanic support challenges some Republican assumptions as well. Many in the GOP who thought Hispanics were “natural conservatives” wanted to woo them through more permissive immigration policy. Even if they were right about the untapped conservatism, they were wrong about making immigration liberalization central to their outreach.

Garza acknowledged that demographics are important. Men and “people who attend church regularly” are the Hispanics most enticed by center-right appeals, while younger women are not. The opportunity is there for Republicans, but continued success is not guaranteed.

In the midterm elections, Republicans are going to see if they can sustain this momentum while Biden’s Democrats try to stop the bleeding.

W. James Antle III is the Washington Examiner's politics editor.