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Voting outside the box

Trump performed better than expected with Latino voters

Trump supporters gather outside a Cuban restaurant in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami on Tuesday night. Associated Press/Photo by Wilfredo Lee

Voting outside the box

Early 2020 exit polls estimate that in a year of increased racial tensions, President Donald Trump improved his standing among racial and ethnic minorities. Joe Biden still won the majority share of black, Latino, and other minority voters’ support, but he performed worse among voters of color overall than Hillary Clinton performed in 2016.

“It didn’t really surprise me,” said 25-year-old Jonathan Diaz, a West Miami, Fla., voter of Nicaraguan and Honduran descent who cast his ballot for Trump. “In 2016 there were a lot more people I know that voted Democrat and this time voted Republican, especially in Latino, in Cuban, communities.”

In 2016, Trump won only about 38 percent of the Latino vote in Florida, but this election, exit polls showed he got about 50 percent. More exit polling data will emerge in the coming days, but initial data from CNN and Edison Research show Trump seems to have lost support from white men while improving his numbers with every other race. Biden performed better among white men by capturing voters with college degrees. He made some inroads among white, working-class voters, but that group overall voted more often for Trump (though by a slimmer margin than in 2016).

The president spent months executing his on-the-ground strategy in Florida. He changed his official residence to the state, gave talks in Miami decrying socialism, and aired Spanish-language ads painting Biden as soft on radicals.

“The older generation of Cubans and Nicaraguans—they come from communist countries—so when they see sort of a threat or something that resembles either socialism or communism they go … against it,” Diaz said.

People in his family’s church also expressed concerns about Biden’s treatment of small businesses and whether he would raise taxes, he said. “A lot of our church members have their own businesses, whether they do mechanics or landscaping or run small little restaurants,” Diaz said. “They enjoy what they do but they’re barely passing as they are right now, especially during times of [the COVID-19 pandemic].”

In Starr County, Texas, which is 96 percent Latino, Clinton won 79 percent of the vote in 2016. In 2020, Biden won the same area by a mere five percentage points. Turn-out for Trump made the difference: It went up from 2,000 votes to 8,000.

Pablo Martinez, a 28-year-old prosecutor who says he’s an independent, conservative-leaning voter, didn’t vote in 2016. He said he couldn’t stand Hillary Clinton but wasn’t sure what he thought about Trump. But this year, he cast his vote for the president.

“[Trump] defends the values that made this country great, and that speaks very strongly to me as the son of an immigrant,” Martinez said. His father is from Mexico. His mother, who was born in the United States, is also Mexican-American.

Martinez grew up in Brownsville, Texas, just a couple of hours from Starr County. He often visited Mexico as a child and said he felt more secure in the United States.

“I’ve grown up my entire life understanding better than most people the importance law and order has in a civilized society,” he said. “I’m not alone in feeling this. … The cartel stuff has gotten bad the last 15 years; there's a reason I don't visit family in Mexico.”

Martinez and Diaz expressed skepticism about how a Biden administration might represent their interests. “[Biden] had his chance for eight years” as vice president, Diaz said. “You really didn’t hear much about him.”

Diaz said he felt as though Democrats and the media in general often miss the diversity within the Latino community on everything from immigration to economics. “I kind of feel like they want us to fit into a box that we’re not really meant to fit inside,” he said. “Latinos are not all going to vote one specific way.”

Harvest Prude

Harvest is a former political reporter for WORLD’s Washington Bureau. She is a World Journalism Institute and Patrick Henry College graduate.


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