Miami-Dade and the Myth of the Monolithic Latino Voter

Not surprisingly, 'Latino voters are in many ways just like everyone else' and not focused just on immigration policy

By Andrew R. Arthur on September 11, 2020

In Washington, the presidential campaign before Labor Day is known as the "silly season". Political stories are dropped to great fanfare, and they seem earth-shattering at the time, only to be forgotten when the mums go on sale at Home Depot. Tuesday things started getting real, and an interesting poll in the Miami Herald showed surprising (to some) support for the president among Hispanics in Florida. It gives lie to the myth of the monolithic Hispanic voter, focused only on immigration.

I generally eschew such labels, which only serve to divide Americans and make little sense in the rest of the world. For example, I was warned before I went to Ireland to never claim to the locals that I was "Irish American" — my last family member left the Emerald Island in the nineteenth century, and to them I was an American and they were Irish and good on us both.

Similarly, in a 1915 speech to the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic men's organization), former President Teddy Roosevelt railed against such "hyphenated Americans", adding "if he is heartily and singly loyal to this Republic, then no matter where he was born, he is just as good an American as anyone else." I concur.

As an aside, oddly enough, the term "Hispanic" — used to describe individuals with what the Washington Post refers to as "mixed Spanish heritage" — was the product of something called the "Ad Hoc Committee on Racial and Ethnic Definitions" at the former Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1975. The paper helpfully explains further: "'Latino' refers to the Latin-based Romance languages of Spain, France, Italy and Portugal. The term embraces Portuguese-speaking Brazilians in a way that the word 'Hispanic' does not."

Nonetheless, dividing Americans into groups is one of the unfortunate things that national elections have a tendency to do, which brings me back to the Miami Herald poll of likely voters in Miami-Dade County. It found that Biden was leading Trump in that heavily Democratic area by 17 points, but interestingly, Trump held a one percentage-point lead over Biden — 47 percent to 46 percent — among Hispanic voters.

Impressively, "two-thirds of all respondents who chose to conduct their interviews in Spanish support Trump", and the president polls more favorably among Hispanics than among non-Hispanic whites (53 percent to 46 percent). Among foreign-born voters, Trump trounces Biden, 56 percent to 38 percent.

The Herald explains:

Those numbers — based on smaller polling subsets with larger margins of error — are driven by Trump's increased support among conservative leaning Cuban Americans, who supported Trump over Biden in the poll by a crushing 38 points. Just eight years ago, those voters roughly split their votes between Republican nominee Mitt Romney and former President Barack Obama.

According to the paper, Latino voters have become a "key swing voting bloc" in the Sunshine State, with Puerto Ricans in Central Florida and Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade making a difference for the GOP in recent gubernatorial and senatorial elections.

Why the strong support? The president's outreach to the Hispanic community, anti-socialist and anti-Castro stance, and his pro-worker positions are all cited (the latter advanced by the president's more ardent supporters). Apparently, the fact that he chose Florida's Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, a Cuban-American, as co-chairwoman of his "Latinos for Trump campaign coalition" has not hurt, either.

Immigration is an issue that did not appear in that article, nor was it in the polling. All of this belies contentions that the issue is key to Hispanic voters as a whole, or that the president's position with respect to it will hurt him with the group generally.

Note that the Miami Herald poll in Miami-Dade in not as much an outlier as you might think. Vox described the former vice president's polling numbers with Latino voters generally as "surprisingly soft" in a July article. NPR's polling on the race showed that 59 percent of Latinos supported Biden — a good number, but lower than the 66 percent that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. In June, a Pew Research Center poll showed that 32 percent of Hispanics either supported Trump or leaned toward the incumbent.

Directly to the point, though, a June NBC News article captioned "Hispanic Republicans? Yep, and they're here to stay, says author Geraldo Cadava" indirectly explains why not all Hispanic voters are purely focused on immigration:

The battle for the Latino electorate, [Political scientist Stephen] Nuño-Perez [senior analyst at the research firm Latino Decisions] said, has been a subplot of both major parties for 60 years. "I don't think it is exciting to say, but Latino voters are in many ways just like everyone else: very diverse, and their voting is based on a combination of self-interest, aspiration, policy views, religion and notions of belonging and identity."

Hispanic supporters of the president referenced in a Sunday Boston Globe article "praised Trump as the champion of faith and freedom, and ... argued that, under Trump, rates of unemployment for Latinos have been historically low, while rates of homeownership have been historically high, at least before the pandemic." One called him a "beacon of hope", thanks to his tax and deregulation policies, and his support for small businesses.

None of this is to say that immigration is not going to be a key issue heading into the November general elections, both for the president's supporters on the one hand and his detractors on the other. But it shows that, for a growing demographic that many may view as most affected by the president's immigration policies, it is not the only issue.

Topics: Politics