There is no such thing as “The Latino Vote.” Cuban Americans in Miami are not Boricuas in New York or Orlando; not even the Mexican Americans in Texas are the same as the Mexican Americans in Arizona. Democrats do not understand this, but President Donald Trump and the Republicans do.
Latino voters, once again, proved in the 2020 election that they can’t just be defined by the broad terms “Latinos” or “Hispanic.” Even though almost 15 million Latinos were projected to vote this year and nearly 70 percent of them voted for Joe Biden, Democrats still failed to attract enough of us in key swing states to claim a blowout win. On the other hand, Trump, talking anti-abortion and anti-socialism, bagged Florida by more than 3 percentage points — which was more than twice his 2016 margin, turning it a deeper shade of red — and grew his support among Hispanics in other states like Texas.
If Democrats do win the White House and want to hold on to it, they have to stop seeing every Latino as a brown immigrant that always votes blue because Republicans are anti-immigration and understand who they are and what they need.
“In two years, we are going to run another campaign again,” said Latino political analyst Gretchen Sierra-Zorita. “We are winning this on a very narrow margin, and we could lose all the inroads that we gained.”
Trump understood that Latinos might share some cultural bass notes, but they have different preoccupations.
Republicans are just better at talking to various Latinos where they live about what worries them. Trump understood that Latinos might share some cultural bass notes, but they have different preoccupations and they like to be listened to as individuals.
For instance, since his inauguration, Trump has shown up in Florida again and again with a strong messaging apparatus. Even though he didn’t exactly stick to the truth, rapid-fire anti-socialism and pro-life messaging targeted specific communities and proved to be effective. Miami-Dade County for example, home to about 2 million Latinos, moved towards Trump in overwhelming numbers: even though Biden carried the county by 53.4 percent, Hilary Clinton had a 30 point margin there in 2016.
About 55 percent of Florida’s Cuban-American vote went to Trump, according to NBC News exit polls, while 30 percent of Puerto Ricans and 48 percent of other Latinos backed Trump. He won the battleground state with its 29 electoral votes — and stunned the Democrats into political soul-searching.
One thing is clear: Trump’s gains among Latino voters there and in Texas — where he lost the heavily Latino Starr County, which is 96 percent Hispanic, in the rural Rio Grande Valley by just 5 percentage points compared to 60 points in 2016 — must be a wake-up call for the Democrats.
“We need to start looking at Latinos like we’re looking at swing states because we’re so fractured, we’re so different that we’re our own swing state,” Julio Ricardo Varela, co-host of the “In the Thick” podcast, told NPR.
Democrats have to stop seeing every Latino as a brown immigrant that always votes blue because Republicans are anti-immigration.
For the Democrats, that is the problem; they view Latinos as monolithic. They flatten Latinos into one identity, deflating a complex and diverse voting bloc into one issue while disregarding at their peril Latinos’ regional identities.
Democrats instead need to tailor their messages to the different Latino communities they wish to activate, and those messages have to be specific, succinct and understood by regular people — not elites.
Those messages should, in many cases, also be in Spanish — the language they also need to be prepared to fight Republican misinformation in. And the campaign managers and operators that are doing the outreach have to be part of the communities to which they are reaching out. Not only can you not combat misinformation passed along in Spanish WhatsApp group chats or shock jock radio if you don’t speak Spanish or know the difference between Bad Bunny and Anuel, you won’t even know they’re circulating if no one invites you to the chat, Karen.
And Democrats need to find a way to integrate their political messages into community service activities that go beyond voter registration and activation.
Meanwhile, don’t wait another four years to come and talk to all kinds of Latinos and finally let go of the 1950s vision of a singular Latino community. We are now a group of 32 million diverse individuals from diasporas across the Western hemisphere and who came here for more than 100 years, comprised of working-class, middle-class and upper-class people and who care about as wide a range of issues as most Americans. For instance, a recent survey by UnidosUS, an advocacy group, and Latino Decisions, a polling and research firm, found that Latinos are more concerned about jobs and the economy than immigration.
So if the Democrats want to retain (or regain) their ground with Latinos and grow a crucial voting bloc for their party, they are going to have to get a little more Trumpy and a lot less white when it comes to their engagement of Latino voters.
Because if the Democrats do not readjust their thinking and their ground game, it will be “Groundhog Day” in Florida and Texas in 2022 — or, worse, in 2024. And who knows who could be running then.