Recently, as discussions on race and privilege ripen in the media and in our individual conversations, concepts surrounding the “Latino vote” have been widely discussed -- and broadly misconstrued. While offering the frequent caveat that “there isn’t a monolith Latino vote,” the reporting around this topic has not reflected an understanding of what this means.
Media sources continue to report, for instance, that Joe Biden’s support is “soft” among Latino voters. This is not only factually inaccurate; it ignores the history and complexity of Latinos in the United States.
Headlines warning of lagging Latino support for the Democrats’ 2020 national ticket seem to be based on a single poll of Cuban American voters in Florida. The last Democratic presidential candidate who won Cuban Americans was John F. Kennedy. That was 60 years ago. Following the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Cubans’ backing of Republican candidates contributed to multiple Republican victories, including George W. Bush and Donald Trump.
Political reporters and editors need to widen their aperture when looking at the Latino electorate.
The growing Puerto Rican vote is firmly behind Biden, largely because of Trump’s dismissive approach to Puerto Rico after hurricanes and earthquakes killed 6,000 and left 10,000 homeless. Thousands of Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida where they can now vote. We expect their turnout to be strong because they are angry and motivated.
The Central American and South American vote in Florida is also growing and it is fearful of Trump. Many see him as having the impulses of the dictators they have come here to escape. Trump’s penchant for praising autocrats around the world belies his efforts to paint Joe Biden as a radical and a socialist. In the past 10 days Trump mused that should he win reelection, he would negotiate a third term because “he’s entitled to it.” Just this week, he would not commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the election. This is in keeping with the likes of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Fidel and Raul Castro in Cuba -- and Vladimir Putin in Russia.
Huge numbers of Hispanics will be first-time voters in 2020, and as a result many are undecided. But history suggests that down the stretch, undecided Latino voters break for Democrats by a 2-to-1 margin.
In 2012, a weekly tracking poll found that just 55% of Latino voters were certain to vote for President Obama with another 9% leaning toward him, but not certain. All told, it was 64% for Obama with 12% undecided. By Election Day, the same poll found Obama with 73% of the Latino vote, a gain of 9 points. Today, a similar pre-election tracking poll finds Biden running at about the same rate as Obama in 2012, at 65% support.
Many of the polls cited in stories about Biden’s lack of Latino support are notorious for missing the mark on basic polling methodology with respect to Hispanics, often basing their results on small samples that will garner a margin of error of plus or minus 10 points, which is never reliable.
A foundational practice of accurate Latino polling is offering interviews in Spanish. This is not a regular practice of many mainstream pollsters. Reputable pollsters who know how to accurately poll Latinos consistently find 40% or more of Hispanic respondents in Florida and in Texas opt to take surveys in Spanish. If pollsters do not offer Spanish-speaking interviews, their surveys are suspect.
Since 1980, Hispanics have been receptive to both major political parties. President Reagan earned 37% of the Hispanic vote during his 1984 reelection campaign. In 1996 Bill Clinton won 72% of the Hispanic vote in his successful reelection bid. They swung to George W. Bush in enough numbers that he would carry some 40% of the Hispanic vote in 2004.
As the largest non-white voting bloc in this election – there will be 32 million eligible voters in November – Latinos can have outsized power. In Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania alone, there are more than 1,100,000 eligible Latino voters. That is many more than the margin of 78,000 votes in those three states that handed Trump the presidency.
But while Latinos can be the deciding factor in the election, it is irresponsible to put the burden of a Biden victory on their shoulders alone. It’s time that political reporters begin writing stories that share the burden and put the onus on white voters. Ironically, it is estimated Biden will only need roughly 40% of the white vote to win.
Americans, of all backgrounds, need to ensure they all come out to vote and that their voices are heard, as together, we are all facing unprecedented peril against a group of people who will do everything in their power to stay in office, no matter how unethical, unprecedented or unlawful those actions might be.
Now that is a story we can all get behind.