The 2020 presidential election proved that the Hispanic electorate is complex and activists need to connect with different communities.
For years, the Hispanic vote has been referred to as the “sleeping giant” that would one day wake up and be a force primarily favoring the Democratic Party.
The 2020 presidential campaign proved the giant woke up, but not in the way many expected.
Hispanics are now the largest minority group in the United States, and they voted strongly in the election, contributing to major victories in some states, including Florida and Arizona.
But the participation of Hispanics showed that they are not a monolithic group and that they are not all pro-Democratic Party, according to political science experts at the University of Miami. Thirty percent of Hispanics voted for President Donald Trump.
“There are many qualities that unite the Hispanic community and we share cultural and ethnic characteristics,” said Fernand Amandi, lecturer in political science and pollster. “But like any other group, there are differences and nuances that vary from state to state, country of birth, language dominance, and even generations.”
The concerns of Hispanic voters based on their country of origin have manifested themselves quite dramatically in two parts of the country, said Michael Touchton, associate professor of political science.
The most striking example was Florida’s turn red for Republicans. The victory was bolstered by 57% of the Cuban-American electorate voting for Trump, while 41% of the same group voted for former Vice President Joe Biden in Miami Dade County.
“The charge of socialism used against Democrats has worked very well in South Florida,” Touchton said. Many Cuban American and Venezuelan voters have turned against the Democratic Party over fears the Democrats could drag them into a form of government they had fled in their home countries.
In Texas, Biden performed well in big cities like Houston and San Antonio, but also lost ground among Mexican-American voters in the Rio Grande Valley. Many of them voted for Trump, appreciating the message Republicans had touted to be tough on crime, experts said.
“The strong law and order message is what attracts many Latinos living near the Texas border to the Republican Party,” Touchton said. “They see images of burning cars in big cities, and that is enough to discourage voters from order even if the Democrats’ economic and immigration policies are attractive.”
Even in Central Florida, the home of most of the state’s Puerto Rican population, who tends to be Democrats, Trump did better than Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, Touchton said. In 2020, he received around 30% of the Puerto Rican electorate vote, according to NBC exit polls.
Puerto Rican men in particular have shown a significant preference for Trump, Touchton said.
“The possibility that the caudillo [strongman] the image that motivates voters may not be the main cause, but it does play a role, ”he said. “Trump is someone who presents himself as an authoritarian, and some voters like him.”
In Arizona, Latinos helped Biden take the state, especially in large counties like Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, and Pima County, home of Tucson, Touchton said. The state was traditionally Republican and, although narrowly, it shifted in part because of the Latin vote, he said.
A surprise in the election was the role played by Latinos in Wisconsin, where they make up about 7 percent of the electorate. Although final numbers are not available, early exit polls found that some 46,000 Hispanics voted early in the state, up from 17,000 in 2016. Newly registered Latino voters are overwhelmingly Democrats. , said Touchton. They are very likely to have played a role in the turnaround of the blue state.
Overall, the election highlighted that the Latin American vote is complex and not tied to a single issue, Touchton said. These voters have a wide variety of issues that interest them, beyond immigration and education.
“It puts them much more in tune with the rest of the American electorate,” he said. It also gives both sides room for reflection on how to campaign in the various Hispanic communities, he added.
According to Touchton, campaigns need to hire “local champions” who are well known in the community and able to create local messages that resonate with each ethnic group. They should also maintain a link with these communities.
In Miami Dade County, the Republican Party has waged a persistent campaign and Trump has visited the region on several occasions, including a visit where he met Cuban-American and Venezuelan businessmen.
Biden made sporadic visits, Touchton said.
“Maybe he needed to go to Versailles and La Carreta or the Bay of Pigs Memorial,” he said. “Even though it’s a symbolic gesture, you have to get it right.”