How Latino voters could swing the presidential election

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“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

White suburbanites have been at the center of discussion for most of the presidential campaign. Joe Biden’s ability, or lack thereof, to cut into President Trump’s support among suburban swing voters will be what ultimately decides the election, many experts believe.

While there’s truth to that view, the focus has shifted recently to another demographic group that may play just as big a role in determining the winner: Hispanic voters. Biden has made significant gains with suburban voters compared with Hillary Clinton in 2016, but recent polling shows he is lagging behind with Hispanics in several key swing states. Biden will almost certainly win a majority of support from Latino voters. Trump received 28 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2016. That’s comparable to how other recent Republican presidential candidates have performed. But if Biden’s margin with the group shrinks, it could potentially open a path for Trump to put together another electoral college victory.

A record 32 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in November, making them the largest nonwhite voting bloc in the country. Four of the most important battleground states — Florida, Arizona, Nevada and Texas — have substantial Hispanic populations. There are also enough Hispanic voters in other crucial states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan to make a difference in a closely contested election.

Trump and Biden both made overtures to Hispanic voters during campaign stops this week. The president held a “Latinos for Trump” event in Arizona. Biden traveled to Florida for the first time in his campaign, where he attended a Hispanic Heritage Month event and discussed his plan for supporting the people of Puerto Rico.

Why there’s debate

Though they are often discussed as a homogeneous group, there is an enormous amount of diversity among Latinos in America. This complexity poses a challenge for both candidates, but especially for Biden. Bernie Sanders outperformed Biden among Hispanic voters during the primary, largely by proposing progressive policies that appealed to voters under 35 — who make up 40 percent of the U.S. Latino population. Embracing those policies could help Biden in Arizona, Nevada and Texas. But that same strategy could doom him with Cuban-Americans in Florida, who tend to have a strong negative view of Sanders-style socialism.

Some Democrats have criticized the Biden campaign for what they see as an insufficient focus on Hispanic voters over the course of the campaign. A lack of direct outreach and poor Latino representation at the Democratic National Convention could stifle Hispanic turnout, they argue.

Trump’s reelection chances also depend heavily on Hispanic voters, particularly in Florida. If he loses the Sunshine State, his path to victory becomes incredibly narrow, experts say. Though Trump’s support with white voters in the state has slipped, Biden’s struggles with Latinos have the race virtually tied in recent polls. If Biden can reverse that trend and win Florida — perhaps by mobilizing the thousands of Puerto Ricans who moved to the state after Hurricane Maria — he would have overwhelming odds of winning the presidency.

What’s next

Hispanic voters have proved to be a challenging group to predict in recent elections, in part because they are more likely than other groups to be undecided until right before Election Day, experts say. It remains to be seen whether the renewed focus on Latinos by both campaigns will sway their support.

As crucial as they are this year, Hispanic voters will become even more important in the next few decades. They are projected to make up more than a quarter of the American population by 2045, which will contribute to the U.S. becoming a “majority minority” nation.

Perspectives

Many young Latinos feel underrepresented and may decide not to vote

“We can’t have so many young Latinos disconnected from the process because they don’t feel part of it. And that is not on them, that is on us, the government, on schools for not educating us on how to be civically engaged and the politicians who are choosing to ignore them.” — Political organizer Sarah Audelo to NBC News

High Hispanic turnout could win the election for Biden

“The power of Latino voters is evident in states such as Florida and Arizona. Had the Latino turnout been higher in those states in 2016, Mr. Trump might not be president. But over half of all Latinos eligible to vote didn’t do so, and consequently history was written in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.” — Jorge Ramos, New York Times

Cuban-Americans could help Trump keep his chances alive in Florida

“Adding to Biden’s challenge in Florida, a must-win state for Trump, is the complexity of the Hispanic population, where the president is popular among conservative Cuban Americans and Republican attacks on Democrats as ‘socialists’ have resonated.” — Sean Sullivan, Washington Post

For a variety of complex reasons, Trump could garner just enough Latino support to win

“Whether it’s because Trump is able to convince Latinos that his economy was working for them before the pandemic, or that only he can quell the protests that have rocked the country, or because Joe Biden has failed to excite them, the result could be the same: Somewhere between a quarter and a third of Latinos could vote for Trump, and that result, especially in key battleground states, could help him win re-election.” — Geraldo Cadava, Boston Globe

Biden still can win the presidency even if he struggles with Latinos

“Biden's best path to the White House largely relies on winning states Trump won four years ago and where Hispanic voters make up less than 5% of the electorate. … Indeed, Biden can struggle with Hispanic voters and still win the election. It’s, in fact, something he’s doing right now.” — Harry Enten, CNN

Neither party has done enough to harness the power of Latino voters

“Without stronger and more consistent efforts to mobilize these Americans, Latinos will not soon become the political force they are poised to be. The result? The major political parties could once again dismiss Latino voters as a ‘sleeping giant’ too unreliable to vote.” — Christian Paz, Atlantic

Latino voters present opportunity, but also risk, for Biden

“What’s most interesting about Biden’s pocket of weakness here is the extent to which it reflects fairly generic strategic vulnerabilities. Biden is well-known but not sharply defined. … That creates the possibility that sustained attacks from Trump will bring Biden’s numbers down, but also an opportunity for a positive introduction to push them up further.” — Matthew Yglesias, Vox

Trump’s success with Latinos is more about his strengths than Biden’s weaknesses

“Team Biden will surely make a greater effort to more actively compete for the Hispanic vote. The consistent pro-Trump, pro-GOP polling and election data, though, show that likely won’t help them as much as they think.” — Henry Olsen, Washington Post

Biden has hurt his support among Latinos by focusing too much on white suburbanites

“There are still concerns, especially among progressives, that Biden hasn’t done enough to engage Latino community leaders or young voters who could help drive turnout to levels necessary to ensure a Democratic victory, and that the campaign and the party are still too focused on winning over moderates at the expense of the base.” — Travis Waldron, HuffPost

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images

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