Democrats lose ground with Latino voters in key states

·4-min read

More Hispanics voted for US President Donald Trump in the 2020 election than in 2016, allowing the incumbent to win key battleground states, such as Florida and Texas in a shift that could have a long-term impact on the American political landscape.

Wavering between hope and disappointment, Democratic candidate Joe Biden on Thursday appeared to have edged out his Republican rival Donald Trump in the wake of the US presidential election on November 3. But the “blue wave” promised by the polls during the campaign never materialised.

While pollsters appear to have been blindsided by the incoming results, analysts have been left scratching their heads, trying to identify all the possible reasons that led the incumbent president to defy, once again, the opinion polls.

It seems certain that "the Latino vote helped prevent the Democrats from winning a clear victory,” said Paul Schor, Associate Professor of US social history at the University of Paris-VII, in an interview with FRANCE 24. "It is no longer a monolithic bloc."

In Florida, the pro-Trump vote increased by more than 3% among Latinos compared to 2016 – a crucial factor in Trump’s winning of the key state for the second time in a row. In Texas, too, some Latin Americans, who had voted overwhelmingly for the Democrats in 2016 and in the midterm elections in 2018, chose Trump this time around.

In several counties near the Mexican border, the Hispanic vote for Trump increased 200 percent over 2016, USA Today reported.

This shift to the right "is one of the surprises of this election and explains, in large part, why the outgoing president was able to win in Texas”, noted Schor.

Certainly, the Hispanic community has remained mostly loyal to the Democrats. Biden attracted nearly two-thirds of those votes and could not have won Arizona without them, CBS said. However, as Schor points out, the erosion of this Latino support base is one of the great lessons of this election.

"We can no longer discuss this community as a monolithic bloc that the Democrats used to win because of some Republicans’ anti-immigration rhetoric," Richard Johnson, a specialist in US politics and policy at Queen Mary University in London, told FRANCE 24.

There is now a diverse range of Latino votes, which can differ according to country of origin, religious sentiment, age and gender, or socio-professional status. It may seem surprising that the issue of immigration is no longer the main electoral driver for this segment of the population, even as Trump presents himself as a champion of tough migration policy and has not refrained, in the past, from labelling immigrants from Latin America as "rapists" and "thieves".

Although he has heaped copious insults on Latinos during his term in office, Trump also did a lot to win them back, compared to Biden who was less active on this front, "perhaps thinking a little too quickly that their vote was largely his”, Schor said.

Trump opened campaign offices in the heavily Spanish-speaking areas of cities across Florida and Texas ignored by his opponent, the Washington Post reported. He gave speeches in prisons with large Latino minorities and visited community churches to present himself as a candidate with traditional Christian values.

"Many Americans with Latin American backgrounds are very Christian and have very conservative positions on societal issues such as abortion," Schor explained.

Trump also managed to "convince some of these voters that Joe Biden was the candidate for socialism, an ideology many of these immigrants, including those from Venezuela under Maduro, sought to escape when they came to the United States”, noted Johnson.

Trump may have boasted of having pursued an uncompromising foreign policy towards Venezuela and, more generally, other Latin American countries governed by the left, but it was a less significant factor in swinging the Latino vote.

The shift among Hispanic voters towards the Republican side of politics represents a challenge for the Democrats that stretches beyond this election.

"There seems to be a transformation within this community, marked by the fact that being Latin American is no longer the predominant factor in the vote, which will force the Democrats to make new efforts to win back this electorate," Schor said.

Republicans, especially the more conservative among them, would no doubt welcome this development. "American demographics have forced Republicans into a soul-searching exercise for a while. The growing importance of the Latin American minority means they would have to reconsider their positions on issues such as immigration," Schor explained.

But such questions seem redundant if an overtly anti-immigrant candidate like Trump can succeed in capturing more votes from this community.

This article was translated from the original in French by Nicole Trian.