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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 31-10-2020 08:31

Go vote, chico!

Latinos don’t vote as a bloc, but with 32 million eligible voters, they will certainly go a long way towards swinging Tuesday’s US election.

Latinos, with 32 million eligible voters, will for the first time count as the largest ethnic minority in a US presidential election in 2020, representing 13.3 percent of all eligible voters and outnumbering blacks, down now to second place. 

Those 32 million who are “fit” to register and vote are only half of the total 60-million-strong US Latino population, points out Pew Research Center. While the Hispanic subset has grown rapidly in recent decades, 18.6 million are under 18 years old and 11.3 million are non-citizen adults (more than half of whom are unauthorised immigrants). From 2010 to 2019, the US population increased by 19 million, and Hispanics accounted for more than half (52 percent) of this growth. Moreover, Latinos are among the youngest ethnic group with a median age of 30. One million Latinos are expected to turn 18 every year for the next two decades.

So, how crucial will the Latino vote be in Tuesday’s election? How much can their vote shift the balance? Do they lean Republican? Do they prefer the Democrats? It depends on their origin. Pew Research Center’s 2018 National Survey of Latinos found that 61 percent of eligible Hispanic voters of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent were more likely than those of Cuban descent to identify as Democrats. A majority of eligible Cuban voters leaned toward the Republican Party (57 percent). 

Donald Trump needs the Latino vote to win three states which would contribute, yes, those crucial electoral college votes. In the adversary camp, instead of that “quality” vote, Joe Biden needs a massive Latino turnout in decisive blue (Democratic) states in order to hold on there with the popular vote.

Let’s dive a little deeper: two-thirds of Latino eligible voters live in just five states. California heads the list with a quarter of the US Latino eligible voters (7.9 million). Texas is second with 5.6 million, followed by Florida (3.2 million), New York (two million) and Arizona (1.2 million). 

California and New York are historically blue, while Texas has been a red (Republican) state since 1980, albeit some polls show it could be pivoting to the Democratic side. Arizona, with 11 electoral votes (where the Hispanic share of eligible voters is 24 percent), has been voting red since 1952 – the exception was Bill Clinton’s win in 1996 – but could turn blue for the first time, while Florida has been swinging from Democratic to Republican presidential nominees for the last five elections. Florida gave Donald Trump its 29 decisive electoral votes to win the 2016 election and again, it is regarded by pundits as the key battleground for him.

Now, let’s get back to the Cubans. And Florida (they cannot be separated). Turnout among Cuban-Americans has regularly been one of the highest among Hispanic eligible voter groups. It definitely made the difference in Florida (if compared with the rest of the nation) in the last presidential election. Exit polls showed that in 2016, 54 percent of Cuban Americans in Florida voted for Trump, compared with 35 percent of the state’s Latino voters overall and 28 percent of Latinos nationwide.

A fresh new poll released Thursday in Florida by Mason-Dixon shows that 71 percent of Cuban origin Hispanics support Trump (only 23 percent of Cubans say they will vote for Biden), while 66 percent of Puerto Ricans and 62 percent of Latinos of other origins say they support Biden.

The pollsters at Mason-Dixon explain away these trends by arguing that Biden’s campaign landed too late in Florida “to build Hispanic support and fight GOP messaging that Biden, Kamala Harris and Democrats are socialists — a message that has resonated in South Florida’s Cuban, Venezuelan, Colombian and Nicaraguan communities.”

Three in four (76 percent) Cuban voters said in a recent Pew nationwide survey that foreign policy is very important for them. Are they approving Trump’s policies toward Cuba, which reversed the friendlier approach of the Obama era with the imposition of several trade, travel and remittances restrictions? 

What about the other very large Latino subset of Mexican-Americans? Are they supporting the incumbent candidate, despite Covid-19 and the building of the border wall? Remember that Mexico is the top origin country of the entire US immigrant population, accounting for 25 percent of all US immigrants. If elected, will Biden keep his promise to smooth the way to citizenship for the 11 million Latino immigrants living illegally in the United States? Does that promise count?

Latinos don’t vote as a bloc. Their vote differs depending on their origin: Cubans are more conservative, while Mexicans, Central Americans and Puerto Ricans lean toward the Democratic Party. The “just arrived” Venezuelans and Colombians follow the Cubans in their Republican preferences. Their choice will never be monolithic: with an increasing young population that is being added every year to the Hispanic quota, Latinos, as the largest ethnic minority in the United States, will certainly go on swinging the vote.
 

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Carolina Barros

Carolina Barros

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald. (2010-2013)

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