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Even if Joe Biden can pull off a narrow victory over Donald Trump in the presidential race, the 2020 election is still likely to be considered a disappointment for Democrats. The party’s ambitions to take control of the Senate, expand their majority in the house of Representatives and flip state legislatures appear to have been dashed. A significant reason for Democrats’ disappointment — or Republican successes, depending on your point of view — was the GOP’s improved performance with Latino voters in key swing states.
Biden won the lion’s share of the Latino vote. But Trump made sizable gains relative to 2016 among Latinos in Florida and Texas, two states he absolutely had to win to be competitive. Latinos also helped the GOP in those states win competitive congressional races and maintain control of the state Legislature.
The shift towards the Republican Party in some places was stark. To win Florida, Biden likely had to at least match Hillary Clinton’s 30-point margin in Miami-Dade County, where a large share of the state’s Cuban-American population lives. Instead, he won the county by just 7 points. In Texas, Biden carried heavily Latino Starr County by 5 points. Clinton won the county by 60 points four years ago.
Why there’s debate
The simplest answer offered for why Biden and other Democrats fell short of expectations with Latino voters is that they failed to make them a priority. Concerns that the Biden campaign was not putting nearly enough effort into winning over Latinos in key swing states had been repeatedly raised by Democratic strategists in the months leading up to the election. “There is a strategy and a path, but the necessary effort simply hasn’t been put in,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted late Tuesday night. Trump, on the other hand, had been courting Cuban Americans and Venezuelan Americans in Florida, both rhetorically and with policy moves, for years.
Another mistake by Democrats, some say, is that they treated Latinos as a largely homogeneous group that could be persuaded by a single message focused on opposition to Trump’s aggressive immigration policies. But Latinos in the U.S. are an incredibly diverse group, whose political views vary depending on national heritage, religion, age, income and how long they and their families have been in the U.S. It should be no surprise that a certain percentage of Latinos voted for Trump because they genuinely prefer him, not because Democrats failed in some way. Some experts even argue that the idea of a “Latino vote” should be abandoned entirely, since the group is too complex and idiosyncratic to be discussed as a whole.
Others take issue with the narrative that Democrats have come up short with Latinos at all. Biden is set to win about two-thirds of the Latino vote, the same share as Hillary Clinton received in 2016. The outsized attention paid to Florida and Texas, they argue, ignores the crucial role Latino voters played in helping Biden win crucial swing states like Wisconsin, Arizona and ,possibly, Pennsylvania and Nevada.
As crucial as Latino voters have been this year, their importance will only increase in future elections as their numbers grow. The U.S. Latino population is expected to nearly double over the next four decades. By 2060, more than a quarter of Americans will be Latino, according to U.S. Census projections.
Democrats had a broken strategy for reaching Latino voters
“The Joe Biden camp did not hire as many Latino consultants. They looked at all Hispanic voters as the same. They did not invest into a ground game with the Hispanic vote in Florida. This was a failure of strategy.” — Lawrence Jones, Fox News
Biden simply didn’t put in the work to win over Latino voters
“He just wasn’t there. He didn’t spend a lot of time courting Latinos until the final two weeks of the campaign. It could turn out to be a huge mistake.” — Political scientist Jaime Regalado to Al Jazeera
It’s a mistake to treat Latino voters as a unified group
“It’s laughable that in 2020, this country still needs to be reminded, Sesame Street style, that Latinos are not a monolith & the Latino vote is a mirage. This misconception comes from how little u bother knowing us, how superficially u cover us & how absent we are in newsrooms.” — Los Angeles Times reporter Esmeralda Bermudez
Trump’s economic message resonates with many Latinos
“If Trump is doing better with people of color, it’s for the same reason he has improved the Republican Party’s edge among non-college-educated white voters: class. Trump talks the language of bread-and-butter economics, promising jobs. Democrats, with the exception of the progressive wing of the party, have abandoned class language and instead focus on national unity.”— Jeet Heer, The Nation
Race is not as determinative for Latinos as it is for other minority groups
“Latinos who identify as white, a group that Trump won overwhelmingly in 2016 and is still on track to win, may be less sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement and attacks on white supremacy from liberal activists than other Latinos and people of color.” — Eugene Scott, Washington Post
Biden’s gains with Latinos in parts of the country shouldn’t be ignored
“Latinos, angry over Trump’s border wall and his administration’s decisions to separate immigrant families, have helped cut into Republican territory in Texas and Arizona. … The reality that these states are in play for Democrats for the first time in a generation shows the scope of the pushback against Trump’s policy decisions and reckless language over the last four years.” — Greg Moore, Arizona Republic
Trump made winning over Latinos a priority
“From the time President Donald Trump took office, he focused on the Latino vote in Florida. … It paid off on Election Day.” — Carmen Sesin, NBC News
Biden failed to counter Trump’s false claims that he’s a socialist
“Like Democrats outside Miami who dismiss the socialism issue as ridiculous, Biden did little to quash it as it loomed even larger when Republicans, for example, cast Black Lives Matter as Marxist-inspired. He didn’t take the socialism rap seriously — and lost a state where most roads to statewide office run through Miami-Dade, the most populous county. It was a costly mistake, an epic fail.” — Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald
Viewing Latino voters through the primary lens of race is a mistake
“The reason the ‘Latino vote’ befuddles is because it doesn’t exist, nor do ‘Latino issues.’ If we want to understand how Latinos vote, we should start by retiring the word “Latino” entirely — and maybe “Hispanic,” too. … These labels have served only to reduce us to a two-dimensional caricature: poor brown immigrants who always vote Democrat. Latinos, like all Americans, are motivated by the issues that affect them directly.” — Isvett Verde, New York Times
Latinos are more conservative than they’re perceived to be
“I knew Trump would do well with Latino conservatives because, well, most Latinos are conservative. We’re Democrats, by a 2-to-1 margin. But we’re conservative Democrats. … When Democrats talk about defunding the police and seem to coddle looters and rioters and Antifa protesters, they drift away from many Latino voters.” — Ruben Navarrette Jr., USA Today
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