Opinion

How Dems can reverse losses among Latino voters

They need a message that combines both race and class.

President-elect Joe Biden

President-elect Joe Biden Alex Gakos/Shutterstock

By the time the popular vote is fully tallied, President-elect Joe Biden’s margin over President Donald Trump likely will be notably lower among Latino voters than fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton’s performance in 2016. Commentators have explained away that shift with a focus on regional phenomena, including massive shifts in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley and Florida’s Miami-Dade County. Viral Twitter threads described the very real differences among Latinos in the United States but at the risk of obscuring the truth that Latinos moved towards the GOP all over the United States. 

While President Donald Trump’s biggest gains among Latino voters were indeed in South Texas and South Florida, Biden lost ground in Latino areas from greater Phoenixand Houston to Lawrence and Holyoke, Mass. The largest Democratic losses in Latino vote share have come in America’s most heavily Latino counties.

These losses extend to New York City, even if one makes generous assumptions about Biden’s vote totals from mail-in ballots still being counted. Democrats have a problem with Latino voters, and they need a new message to fix it. 

Consider the discrepancy between Clinton’s vote share and Biden’s in heavily Latino districts, across different boroughs that capture diverse cross-sections of Latinos by income, geography, heritage and, as applicable, proximity to the immigrant experience. In 2016, in the 84th state Assembly District in the South Bronx, Clinton won the two-party vote – the Democratic nominee’s vote share on the Democratic and Working Families Party lines, and Trump’s share on the Republican and Conservative lines – by 90 percentage points. This year, if one takes the tabulated in-person results, assumes every absentee ballot is counted, assigns absentee votes based on party registration and assumes unaffiliated voters break 5 percent more Democratic than in-person votes, Biden would win the two-party vote in the district by 76 percentage points. Using the same methodology, in the 86th Assembly District in the Bronx, Clinton won the two-party vote by 90 points, whereas Biden will win it by 70 points; in the 39th AD in Queens, Clinton won the two-party vote by 68 points, while Biden will win it by 52 points; in the 72nd AD in Manhattan, Clinton won the two-party vote by 86 points, while Biden will win it by 70 points.

Perhaps the pushback to discussion of Trump’s improved performance among Latino voters was intended to protect the community from scapegoating for a potential Biden loss, when Latinos still supported Biden far more than white voters did. 

But understanding what happened, and why – and how Democrats can reverse the trend – is essential to building a progressive majority. 

One part of the answer is a growing gender gap between Latino and Latina voters. In 2016, according to onestudy of validated voters, Latinas voted for Clinton by a 41-point margin, and Latino men voted for her by 29 points. According to a pre-election Telemundopoll, the respective margins were 52 points and 9 points, yielding a 43-point gender gap.

In addition to sexism – a pervasive factor common to every ethnic and racial group – some of this gender gap may be related to the related educational attainment gap and the Democrats’ declining vote share among Americans without a college education. Women of every racial or ethnic background are more likely than their male counterparts to attend college, but the gap is biggest in the Latino community. Biden led by 45 points in a pre-election Pewpoll among Latinos with college degrees and 30 points among those without.

In addition, “Latino or Hispanic” is an ethnic category, not a racial one, and thus liberals must not assume that all Lations identify as people of color. In one survey, only a quarter of Latinos identified as people of color. Latinos who specifically identify as white are more likely to vote for the Republican Party, with the probability of white identification growing with each succeeding generation. In addition, Latinos are more likely to marry someone of another race or ethnicity than almost any other group, with higher rates among U.S.-born Latinos; this trend leads to decreasing Latino identification over time. Lastly, Latino evangelicals are a growing share of the country, and they favored Trump in pre-election polling.

Part of the 2020 vote shift is also Trump-specific: while hosting The Apprentice, Trump, portrayed there as an exemplar of wealth and success, had exceptional ratings among Black and Latino viewers. Substantial shares of voters of color, and most Americans overall, have a positive approval rating of Trump’s handling of the economy, even during the pandemic. And this election did not center nearly as much on immigration as did 2016.

The Biden campaign, which invested a record $20 million in targeted advertising toward Latinos this cycle, could not control all of these factors. So how can Democrats compensate for them in the future? 

They must try a new approach, beginning with messaging. Law professor and author Ian Haney López worked with the progressive think tank Demos to conduct large focus groups testing racial fear messaging, race-silent economic populist messaging, and explicitly racial equity-focused messaging. Across racial lines, racial fear messaging – the kind Trump excels at – outperformed the other two, in large part because even communities of color have internalized negative stereotypes foisted upon them, thus leading to battles creating scarcity and tiers of perceived worthiness. 

Racial equity-focused messaging is in vogue among national Democrats, audible in Biden’s speech on racial equity in the COVID-19 economic recovery. However, López finds that this rhetoric may drive up pessimism about the future and skepticism about the interest of white Americans in reducing racial inequities among communities of color, and it performs poorly among white voters. Economic populist messaging of the sort Sen. Bernie Sanders deployed frequently in 2016, while outperforming the racial equity message, still lagged behind the racial fear messaging.

But “race-class” messages, which argued that a wealthy, well-connected few used race to divide the working class against itself, and called for working people of all backgrounds to fight for a future for the many, tested morepositively across racial lines than anything else, including racial fear messaging. The race-class framework acknowledges the inescapable realities of systemic racism, but charts a shared, inclusive path forward. Aspects of this approach are audible in Sanders’s “Bernie’s Back”rally in 2019 and then-Sen. Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” speech in 2008. While this approach may seem counterintuitive to activists and advocates, who are high-information and often well-educated voters, what appeals to activists is not necessarily what appeals to swing voters.

Winning back Latino voters requires more than dutifully reciting focus-grouped language; the Democratic Party must internalize the nuances of diversity and range of Latino identity and message to us accordingly. Latino voters are essential to Democrats’ majority in the House of Representatives, which runspartly through swing districts in blue states, and to the Electoral College map in Nevada, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia. And Democrats would need wider margins among Latino voters in Texas and Florida to put those states in play. 

Democrats cannot afford to continue to bleed voting groups that are less college-educated and have substantial rural populations, as they have with white and, to a lesser extent, Black voters. The party must face reality and work to win back Latino voters.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.