Trump shrunk Democrats’ advantage with Latino voters this year. Why do Latino voters usually support Democratic candidates by large margins and why did they swing toward Trump in 2020? Gabriel Sanchez finds that Latino voters were highly engaged this year but less focused on immigration, meaning traditional divisions on the economy were more salient. Latinos strongly supported Democrats in the last two elections, so Republicans had room to gain. Giovanni Castro finds that Latino national origin groups that emigrated from countries governed by right-wing leaders often identify with Democrats, whereas those fleeing countries governed by the left are more likely to be Republicans. That might explain why associating Democrats with socialism mattered this year. They both see a lot of diversity in the Latino electorate.
Matt Grossmann: This week on the Science of Politics. For the Niskanen Center, I’m Matt Grossmann. Trump lost vote share in 2020 compared to 2016, but he shrunk Democrats advantage with Latino voters, gaining ground in South Florida and South Texas. Why do Latino voters usually vote for Democrats by large margins, and why did they swing toward Trump now?
This week, I talked to Gabriel Sanchez of the University of New Mexico about his work on Latino voters, including co-editing Latinos in the 2016 Election and Latinos in the 2012 Election. He finds that Latino voters were highly engaged this year, but less focused on immigration, meaning traditional divisions on the economy were more salient. But Latinos strongly supported Democrats in the last two elections, so Republicans had room to gain.
I also talked to Giovanni Castro of Penn State University about his new paper, The Influence of Country of Origin in the Process of Party Identification Acquisition. He finds that Latino national origin groups that left countries governed by right-wing leaders, often identify with Democrats. Whereas those fleeing countries governed by the left are more likely to be Republicans that might explain why associating Democrats with socialism mattered this year.
Sanchez says that the 2016 election saw a Latino racialization, but that declined in 2020.
Gabriel Sanchez: I’ve been fortunately an author of two edited volumes that tracked Latino voting patterns in both the 2012 and 2016 elections. And probably the biggest take home message was how central immigration politics and policy was to Latino voters across both election cycles, being either the number one or number two most salient issue for most Latino voters. And I think that kind of set the context if you will, for how Latinos approach the election. Particularly in 2016, which is really the year in which most of us, myself included as experts on Latino politics mentioned that candidate Trump’s campaign racialized Latinos more so than any other candidate in presidential election history. Really starting his campaign had a demonizing Mexican immigrants in particular, and following that really hard line immigration approach through the election cycle. Which was a big mobilizer for Latinos, not only in terms of higher turnout than a lot of people projected, but also the lowest support for any candidate on record, at least for our data and Latino decisions. Candidate Trump only got 18% of the Latino vote in 2016, which was again, a record low for any candidate of either party among Latinos.
That was kind of the backdrop, if you will, if we think about those two election cycles and then into 2020, obviously, what was much different about this election than probably any other in American history was the health pandemic really being the backdrop for all aspects of the election for Latinos, just like everybody else. And I think that led a movement away from immigration policy and politics being the core issue or the wedge issue, if you will, among Latinos. And I think that really changed how a lot of Latino voters looked at the race because you just didn’t have that natural mobilizer of President Trump and his hard line messaging and racialized messaging about immigration playing his dominant role in 2020, as it did in the last two election cycle.
Matt Grossmann: Trump did not do well with Latinos, but he did much better this time.
Gabriel Sanchez: And the other thing that obviously a lot of folks have been talking about in the media is the increased support the Latino voters showed President Trump. If we say in 2016, he only got 18% of the Latino vote. Clearly, whether you look at our data or the exit poll data, clearly he increased his vote share among the Latino population. And we have President Trump getting roughly 28%, 27, 28% of the Latino vote in 2020, so most folks want to know what explains that. I think there was an expectation that Latinos would have even lower support than 18% in 2020. And obviously that did not happen. So there’s a lot of questions about what led to his increased support among Latino voters. And is that something that the Republican party can bank on moving forward?
Matt Grossmann: There are lots of potential explanations for his gains.
Gabriel Sanchez: That’s the multi-million dollar question. I’ll say of all the calls I’ve gotten from reporters, probably 75% have asked this question of what explains that increase in President Trump’s support among Latinos. And before I get into some of the nuances, again, just want to remind folks that we’re really talking about a nine or 10% increase. It’s not huge. It’s still overwhelmingly bite and carry the Latino electorate. We have him probably 70% support among Latinos. But it is interesting, especially when a lot of folks thought given that the racialization of Latino voters in 2016 and a lot of policies that might not be friendly to the Latino population to see an increase, I think generates a lot of interest.
When we look at the data, and a lot of this is just me looking at our cross tabs from our big election eve poll in 2016 and comparing them to what we saw now in 2020. One of the things that is pretty obvious when you stare at the data is although Latinos were still more likely to support the democratic candidate in 2020 than they were in 2016, that gender gap was nowhere near as large as it was in 2016. Latinos came down a bit from their record high 86% support for Hillary Clinton in 2016, came down a little bit more to normal ranges of mid to high 70s. And so I think that’s one explanation just when you look at the demographics, but probably more important than that is when you look at state by state level differences. Florida, for example, our data suggests increased their support for President Trump from 31% back in 2016 to 38% now in 2020.
Similarly, we saw shifts and Texas jump from a really, really low number of 16% in 20 up to 29% in 2020. And I think you hit the nail on the head. When we look internally at a state like Texas, although Biden did incredibly well and probably increased his vote share relative to Clinton in key cities, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio. Once you get into the Rio Grande Valley, we saw a combination of lower turnout than I think the Democrats were hoping for or expected in the Rio Grande Valley area of the state of Texas, and also a bit higher support for Trump than a lot of models predicted.
I think there’s a lot there to dig into. I think one of the things that a lot of people haven’t spoken a lot about is the difference in response to the economic challenges associated with the Coronavirus between the two candidates. With a really clear distinction of President Trump, basically arguing we’ve got to keep businesses open, we can’t shut things down. And I think a lot of people forget that Latinos are disproportionately small business owners. In fact, those entrepreneurs have absolutely kept that small business orientation in the United States afloat over the last 10 years with just higher increases in small business owners among Latinos than any other racial and ethnic group.
I think for a lot of those folks, they might not have agreed with President Trump’s platform on a number of issues. They probably didn’t like him personally, but they were forced with a really difficult proposition. If we can’t open up businesses, my business might go under, a lot of Latino businesses already have gone under. I think that might’ve been one factor that moved a bit more Latinos to candidate Trump in 2020 than we saw in 2016.
Matt Grossmann: The decline in immigration discussion probably helped Trump with Latinos.
Gabriel Sanchez: I think that was one of the biggest factors. I mean, unlike 2016, where all of the discussion by talking heads like myself, the media about the presidential election and Latino voters generally started with and ended with immigration policy. And we saw everything from separation of families to huge border enforcement, building of the wall, all those chants at President Trump’s campaign rallies about building the wall, all of that narrative just wasn’t there in 2020. I think it really wasn’t a strategic decision by the Trump campaign to move off of immigration. I think it was just the Coronavirus sucked all the air out of other issues. And for the Latino population who had been devastated by the virus, disproportionately so across every single state in the US where we have the availability to look at data, Latinos are overrepresented in positive cases, and unfortunately in casualties.
I think all attention was just there. And it allowed a window for President Trump to be able to talk about other issues and move away from immigration, which was clearly something that really impacted his prospects for the Latino vote. So I think that was something that really helped candidate Trump with Latino voters. But again, we’re talking about only an increase of 9, 10% at most relative to 2016.
Matt Grossmann: Immigration declined is the most important issue along with attention to Trump’s rhetoric.
Gabriel Sanchez: Part of it is, and then you look at the data and every one of our Latino decisions surveys, especially in the context of elections, always asks directly in an open-ended way, what are the most important issue facing the Latino community that you think that the federal government elected leaders should address? When you look at that data, although the Coronavirus was the top issue for Latino voters, think 67% or so, healthcare costs and the economy and jobs were higher than immigration for particular subgroups of Latino electorate, including immigrants themselves. Immigration remained a top two or top three issue.
So I don’t want to say that immigration took a major backseat, especially for foreign born Latino voters, but it just wasn’t quite as salient, largely because you just didn’t have the everyday rhetoric from President Trump hammering on Mexican immigrants, hammering on border enforcement. And without that constant reminder, I think Latinos, like every other population became more concerned with the Coronavirus and what that might mean for them in terms of their health and the health of their families, as well as just the overall economy.
I think that’s really the story. It’s just a nuance to how important immigration policy was for the Latino population. But one really interesting point there is in the top five for most Latino voters, much more so for young Latino voters, discrimination and social justice issues became mobilizers, particularly for young Latinos. And a huge segment of the Latino population when we asked them directly, if things in terms of racism towards Latinos have gotten worse in the last four years, overwhelmingly 62% of Latinos believed that their community has faced more discrimination than they did four years ago.
Gabriel Sanchez: I think Latinos are conscious of what’s going on. They’re conscious of police violence and brutality against their community, structural racism, all of these factors definitely help mobilize Latinos. It’s just that the coronavirus was such a huge force in 2020, particularly for Latinos. That essentially crowded out or drowned out a lot of these other factors, including immigration.
Matt Grossmann: Now Sanchez says, “Democrats have still made gains among Latinos since George W. Bush.”
Gabriel Sanchez: If we take a look at the last several election cycles, and you go back to 2008 and you start to look at the Latino voting patterns over time. Essentially between 70, 75% of Latinos across the last several election cycles have voted democratic. Although right now, when we’re talking about probably 70% for Biden, that might not look as high as it did in the Obama years, it still suggests that probably 72% on average of Latinos have voted democratic over the last several election cycles.
I think that’s probably the new norm if you will, for Latino voters is being north of 70%, which is a huge number, especially when we think about the Bush years. Some estimates had candidate Bush getting as much as 40% of the Latino vote. Even in a relatively high year, we’re still for candidate Trump not talking about anywhere near the 40% range that Bush got. And I think it’s just important to remind folks of that relatively recent history, just so we get a sense of what things look like.
So I think if we compare what were those Bush voters and what drove them to the polls and to support Candidate Bush, a lot of it was more “moral issues” back in that era, where really the take-home message for Latino voters is that they might be morally conservative, and there we’re talking about primarily abortion. But in terms of other domestic policy issues, much more liberal.
And so that was really the conversation about the Latino vote back in the Bush years. Now, I think it’s shifted from that. I think Candidate Trump definitely did win some votes by pushing hard on abortion, particularly in the context of the Supreme Court nomination and all of that discussion. But I think much more so than that, it was really just potentially a lot of Latino Republicans who might’ve been really turned off by Trump in 2016 and his racialized campaign, essentially coming back home to the Republican party after four years and maybe moving back to more of a normal 70%-30% range of distribution of Latino vote.
I think that’s probably going to be the outcome after we get through crunching all the numbers of the 2020 campaign, is just kind of taking a look maybe at 2016, being an outlier where we saw just record lows of support from Latinos to the Republican party. And maybe just getting back to more of a 70-30 split, I think that’s probably going to be the take home message.
Matt Grossmann: In 2020, we saw big differences across states and national origin groups. Castro finds that Latino party identification often stems from country of origin politics.
Giovanni Castro: In this paper, I find the importance of the experience occur in the countries of origin for the political behavior of Latin American immigrants in the United States. I find that people who came from countries with governments on the right wing are usually Democrats. And that those migrants who come from countries with government of the left wing, they tend to align themselves with the Republican Party.
Matt Grossmann: He started by noticing some big differences across Latino subgroups.
Giovanni Castro: This research starts because I am a product of Puerto Rican style Latin American and Caribbean country subject to the common power of the United States. My experience in Latin America preceded my arrival to the United States. Before starting my graduate studies in the United States, I have had the opportunity to visit several Latin American countries. And I have realized that Latin Americans are very different from each other. Yes, we have a common language and a similar story, but many times our similarities end up there. Upon arriving to the United States and beginning to become familiar with American political science, I realized that here, both academia and society treat Latinos as the same thing. And it is why I propose that we are not the same, that we have our differences and that this difference makes us to have a different political behavior.
Matt Grossmann: His work generalizes the Cuban case. We know those Latinos are more on the right due to their immigration story.
Giovanni Castro: The Cuban experience is key for my article on to explain of that. In Cuba after the revolution, there is a migratory phenomenon to United States that is very different from the migration from Latin Americans or countries. While immigrants from the rest of Latin America arrive fleeing the poverty of their countries, from Cuba, [inaudible 00:03:41], rich, and dominant class allied with dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and that lose their economic and political power after the Cuban revolution in 1959. Upon reaching the United States, those Cubans find that the party that most strongly defends the individualism on which the rich class in Cuba before the revolution depended.
And they also find that this party was the Republican party, the one who’s strongly opposed to communism in the world. And it was a broken party who has no problem in inviting countries and building international law to repress the self-determination of the Latin American countries. And it’s all of this that leads Cuban to ally themselves with the Republican Party. And it is not just a phenomenon of the Cubans in the United States. Just to give an example, many Cubans also came to other Latin American countries. And in Puerto Rico, after the Cuban revolution, many Cubans migrated to Puerto Rico and committed terrorist attacks to assist in a Puerto Rican who defended the independence of Puerto Rico or Puerto Ricans who will be in favor of the Cuban revolution or Puerto Ricans who are against the colonial power of the United States in Puerto Rico.
Matt Grossmann: Puerto Ricans initially escaped the right, but the latest migrants are different.
Giovanni Castro: Puerto Rico as a colony has had right wing or string right wing governors in both an economic and political sense. Puerto Rico, despite having a society that could be classified as conservative, the immigration of Puerto Ricans to the United States is not like the Cuban Republican in immigration in which privileged people who belong to the power circles of their bourgeois in the full hands of a dictatorship. No, Puerto Ricans who immigrate to the United States do so mainly because of poverty and lack of jobs and opportunities in Puerto Rico. And all of it is within a right wing government contest. Once these Puerto Ricans arrive to the United States, they may be conservative people, or at least conservative people in Latin American context, but they often reject conservative policies of the Republican party in their state. And I argue that this is worse even more now with the anti-Latino speeches of Donald Trump.
Matt Grossmann: It’s also important when each group came and future Mexican immigrants may be less democratic.
Giovanni Castro: Mexico, as well as, in contrast, Colombia is an interesting case because these are countries which have been ruled exclusively by right wing presidents. And there are ideological differences between those presidents. Some right wing presidents are more conservative than older right wing presidents, but they are still on the right wing. Therefore, I really don’t think that people who left Mexico under Fox are under Calderon might have different preferences than those under Pena Nieto. Although it will be interesting to see if in the future, if there is a change in the partisan preferences of Mexicans, who came to United States during the president of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is more to the left.
Matt Grossmann: Trump went after specific groups with specific messages, including foreign policy and economics.
Giovanni Castro: I’m going to say something that is not new or a phenomenon of this election, but we see candidates in this last election targeting their audiences. The campaigns targeted to Latinos were very specified to each group in this last election. For example, in Florida, the Donald Trump campaign, ran ads in Spanish with a Puerto Rican accent to Puerto Ricans and in Spanish with a Cuban accent for Cubans, but it was not the only difference. The message within it were different for both populations. For example, the message targeted to the Cubans were talking about policies against Cuba, but messages targeted to Puerto Ricans were talking about how the US administration will help Puerto Rico to the hurricane recovery. With the increasing migration of Puerto Ricans to Florida, the state of Florida has become a challenge for campaigns. Looking at the results in Florida, 59 of all Latino voters were to Joe Biden.
However, this number leaves us more questions than answers. The two because Latino populations in Florida are the Cubans mainly in Miami and the Puerto Ricans mainly in Orlando increasingly. [inaudible 00:20:56] both populations have had electoral and political behaviors very different. While Cubans in Florida have been Republican supporters, this trend has been declining in recent years. Unlike the Cubans who began to immigrate in large numbers after the Cuban revolution, the Puerto Rican immigration is very recent, at least to Florida. And very little is known about them. Puerto Ricans have been studied in states like New York, like Pennsylvania, but I think it is an error to assume that just because Puerto Ricans are strong democratic supporters in New York and the East coast of the United States in general is applicable to Puerto Ricans in Florida. And the reason, because I think we cannot apply political preference from Puerto Ricans in other states to analyze those from Florida, is because the recent immigration of Puerto Ricans to Florida has a contrast very different from the circumstances for Puerto Ricans who migrate several ago to New York.
Matt Grossmann: Castro says Trump improved his standing by changing his message and issues.
Giovanni Castro: Trump’s numbers among Latinos are the fruit of a great mobilization effort by the Trump campaign team. After Trump’s racist comments towards Mexican Latino immigrants, the fact that there are still Latinos who support Trump is an achievement. I think it may be because two reasons. First, because those Latinos who support Trump are giving an economic vote or I use national vote, not necessarily a Latino vote. So that is when comes the concept of Latino [inaudible 00:22:50] applied to Latinos. One thing is that a person is a Latino again, but [inaudible 00:22:59] is determinant on the sentiment of how you think that you’ve come to a Latino community. And the second, and it is the one that most applies to my research, is that when Trump attacks Latinos, sometimes are not to Latinos in general, sometimes they affect Central Americans. Sometimes they affect specifically Mexicans. Sometimes they attack Puerto Ricans. But, by example, Trump doesn’t attack Cubans, there is a big difference. I think the Trump analysis is not to Latinos in general, but it’s a targeted attack.
Matt Grossmann: Sanchez agrees there are a lot of national origin differences across the Latino electorate, with the socialism message mattering more for some than others.
Gabriel Sanchez: One thing that is clearly emerged and has been an important, I think, collective understanding now about the Latino electorate is just how diverse and non monolithic that voting population is. I mean, obviously those of us that study the Latino electorate have been saying this for decades, but I think now the mainstream media has really caught on to that and it’s understood when you’re talking about the Latino vote, you’ve got to talk about it within the nuances of national origin and where folks live across the country. So if we’re talking about did, I would argue a lot of misinformation campaigns that were trying to paint the Biden team as heavily socialist and particularly the Democratic Party as heavily socialist.
I think where that had the most traction is in the state of Florida where you’ve got the Cuban-American population and the Venezuelans subgroups being larger in number than in a lot of other states and where that socialism argument or debate, if you will, becomes much more central and much more powerful. And so if you look at, for example, a subgroup analysis within the state of Florida, not too surprisingly, Cuban-Americans and Venezuelans were more likely to support candidate Trump. And I think some of that… How much is hard to say just now, but at least some of that I think is attributed to this underlying notion of socialism and maybe some of the characterization of what that means in the United States being carried over from their countries of origin.
Matt Grossmann: Some may have been attracted and Biden did win over Sanders Latino supporters, young people who didn’t move to Trump.
Gabriel Sanchez: That was an important narrative coming off of the primary where you saw Bernie Sanders carry a larger segment of the Latino vote across the country than Biden did. One of the big questions is, could those folks that were pretty hardcore Sanders supporters be moved towards Biden, how many of those folks would just sit out the election, et cetera, would that cost Biden the prospect of a victory? And when you looked at the data from the primary, it was pretty clear that the vast majority of Latino Bernie Sanders supporters were young Latinos.
And so there was a lot of question about what could be done to move them over, et cetera. And at least initially when you look at turnout by young Latinos, it looks as though the Biden campaign was actually able to capture a larger segment of that population than was projected. And that’s an important factor, especially when we think about just underlying demographics. This is somewhat surprising to people, over 40% of Latino eligible voters in this cycle were under the age of 35. Nearly 60% under 45, right?
So if you think about that challenge for team Biden, how do we engage a lot of these young voters not only just to vote because we know well turning out young voters is a challenge every single election cycle, but how do you move them from Sanders’s camp over to Biden? And I think we wouldn’t be able to be talking about a Biden victory, particularly in states like Arizona, if they weren’t able to capture some of that enthusiasm that was originally situated with Sanders and moved over to Biden. So I think that is really, if you look at the underlying demographic patterns, it was really about young Latino voters. And I think the Biden team did enough among that subgroup to be able to carry some of these key states.
Matt Grossmann: There were other big changes this year. Sanchez says Latino turnout was way up.
Gabriel Sanchez: Turnout is always the thing that takes us, scholars and analysts, a little bit longer to have firm data on just because you have to confirm so much information across states, but at least the early estimates, and I’m using UCLA’s Latino Politics and Policy Initiative’s analysis, they suggest that there was probably 14.8 million Latinos who turned out in 2020, which is a big number, right? I think we can firmly say that more Latinos voted in 2020 than any election before that. And especially when we start to look at individual states, even states where you don’t typically associate a lot of Latinos like let’s say Wisconsin, 135,000 Latino votes were cast is our estimate there, Michigan over 100,000. You look at more traditional states like Arizona and Colorado, 700,000 Latino voters in Arizona, probably 300,000 or so in Colorado.
And so despite heavy, heavy concerns among the Latino electorate about the fear of voting, particularly in person because Latinos have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, despite a bunch of misinformation and voter suppression efforts, despite all of those obstacles, Latinos really turned out in extremely high numbers, especially if we think about somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million Latinos voting early. All of those numbers suggest that it was a really big turnout year for Latinos in 2020.
Matt Grossmann: Latinos were more mobilized this time, but still lag behind other groups in mobilization.
Gabriel Sanchez: On the positive, I would say the amount of outreach and mobilization efforts directed towards Latinos were probably record breaking in 2020 any way you look at it. In terms of our surveys, the amount of likely voters who indicate that they were contacted, and you look at the amount of money spent and invested in the Latino population, all of those things I think are very positive, especially in states like Arizona where you saw a huge increase in Latino turnout. That was folks on the ground working over the last two election cycles really, really trying to figure out how to mobilize Latinos.
So there’s a lot of positive stories there, particularly among organizations on the ground that did a lot of tremendous work in 2020. But at the end of the day, if you look at our election-eve survey and you just look at self-reported contact, and that’s contact by either party, any of the candidates, Latinos are still disproportionately unmobilized. So I think at the end of the day, absolutely there’s some truth to that discussion that Latinos just were not contacted, were not mobilized, were not engaged to the same extent as other racial and ethnic groups, and it continues to be a chicken and egg phenomenon, right? Some folks are going to say, we won’t pump in huge money, let’s say into Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, until we see that that’s going to be worth our investment.
Because those are obviously finite resources and money you pump into Texas means you don’t have money let’s say for Wisconsin or Michigan, I don’t know, Nevada. So I think there’s definitely a little bit of a mixed bag. I think we’ll look back on 2020 and say, hey, Latinos turned out and in many cases, despite huge fears of risking their life to get infected with the virus, and turned out in really, really high numbers, but there’s still a lot of room to really improve on Latino turnout moving forward. And I think we’re learning quite a bit better about how to do that effectively, what areas in the country we need to be much more investing earlier in the campaign season. I mean, that’s one thing I’ve heard consistently from a lot of organizations on the ground is they’re saying essentially, look, we didn’t see team Biden’s folks until really close to election day, why don’t they start earlier? Why don’t they start their ground games earlier? I think that’s going to be one thing that hopefully we see improving in the future.
Matt Grossmann: In 2020, Latinos we’re focused on the economy and COVID, and that changed how they voted.
Gabriel Sanchez: Well, like for all voters, Latinos were a population driven mostly by the coronavirus and the perception of which candidate was going to be better at attacking the virus both in terms of the economic relief as well as obviously the direct health implications of that. So that was the number one issue for Latino voters and that’s what we’re spending a lot of our time looking at in terms of how did that shape not only how Latinos thought about the candidates, but also how they participated in the election. Like all voters, there was a record number of Latinos who either voted earlier or voted by mail. And a lot of that our data suggests was because they wanted to avoid standing in long lines and potentially catching the virus by voting on election day.
So I think studying how behavior shifted during the pandemic, how it influenced the Latino electorate and really whether states will continue opening up access to early voting and mail voting moving forward when we’re out of the pandemic context, will that influence how Latinos in many states access the ballot box and how they pay attention to politics, et cetera; it’s one big thing that I think a lot of us are taking a look at and paying close attention to.
Matt Grossmann: He finds no large differences based on education, despite claims of a working class move, but there were big differences by voting method.
Gabriel Sanchez: I haven’t seen huge gaping differences based on educational attainment among Latinos like you see among the overall white population. So at least preliminarily speaking I don’t think there’s a big story there about underlying differences among Latinos. I mean, if we’re thinking about maybe some other differences across the subgroup that maybe we want to pay closer attention to and figure out if these are going to be trends moving into the future, one thing we might take a closer look at is how people intended to vote, right? And in 2020, this was much more powerful than in other election cycles.
But given the huge number of Latinos who voted early and voted by mail, we saw a pattern at least in our pre-election surveys where male-based voters among Latinos were much more likely to indicate that they were going to vote for Biden. And I think that’s part of the story of why the late votes that were coming in across the country were trending so heavily towards Biden. I think there was a lot of enthusiasm for him among folks who intended to vote by mail. But unfortunately a large segment, particularly of young Latinos, didn’t trust mail ballots. They didn’t think that their vote would actually be counted. There was a lot of fear about fraud, obviously a lot of that being pumped out by President Trump himself and his team.
But I think as we think about the future, as all of us start to dig in closer in the data and we start to figure out among Latino subgroups who’s most likely to vote early moving forward, who’s most likely to potentially vote by mail and who does that benefit, I think you’re going to see a lot more targeted, effective mobilization trying to capture people that intend to vote early, much earlier in the campaign season, recognizing if you wait until a week or two before, you might have a large segment of folks that have already cast their ballot and it’ll be too late to move them.
Matt Grossmann: Latino decisions has higher democratic numbers for Latinos, but Sanchez says their numbers are converging with others.
Gabriel Sanchez: When we compare our numbers to the exit poll or to other major national polls, they were actually a lot closer now in 2020 than they were back in 2016. For folks who might not follow this closely, after 2016 our team really was pretty aggressive in critiquing the exit poll numbers, particularly for Latinos largely because the exit poll really is not designed to capture nuances across racial and ethnic groups. So if you look at, for example, in 2016, we put out a lot of briefs that really challenged who the exit poll was talking to among Latinos, maybe completely ignoring the whole Rio Grande Valley in the state of Texas, et cetera.
But this time around, if you look closely, the exit polls actually changed their numbers a few times as they got closer to the final estimates that they put out. And every time they did, their numbers looked a lot more like ours in 2020. So I think there’s a lot more movement and sophistication across the wider population of pollsters and researchers. And we like to think we played a heavy hand in hopefully improving the way that folks think about the Latino population while trying to track them in polling.
So here’s a few things that we do that we think leads to the credibility of our numbers for Latinos. One is we have fully bilingual interviewers. So if we’re interviewing folks on the phone, we make sure that if we pick up the phone with you and you want to do the interview in Spanish, you can do it right then and there. No callbacks like a lot of other firms use that they don’t have fully a bilingual interviewer staff. And if you take a look at our polls, for the election year for example, we had over 30% of the overall sample take the interview in Spanish. And if you compare that with some other pollsters out there, in many cases they have zero Spanish language interviews. So that always to me is pretty telling of just the underlying difference of who we’re talking to. And consistently these days when we take a sample, we’re always blending in text message recruitment, doing a lot of interviews online, not relying extensively on the phones.
These days, particularly for Latinos, because so much of our voting-eligible population are young, under the age of 30, you got to catch these people where they are. For us, that means increasing the number of interviews that we do off of, particularly landlines, but even cell phones. That’s another thing that I would always tell people, take a look at the data method sections of polls and get a sense of who they’re talking to.
Then the other thing that I find that is different for us than a lot of other firms, and this is challenging for pollsters, because we’re always trying to talk to the most highly likely voters we can. Typically, what people do is take a look at past voting records, if we can connect what we’re looking at in terms of sample of the voting record. We want to catch people that, let’s say, voted in 2018, voted in 2016, because they’re highly likely voters. But for Latinos, given how young that demographic is, we’ve got to make sure that we’re catching people who are telling us they’re enthusiastic, they’re engaged, they plan to vote, but simply weren’t old enough to vote in those last election cycles.
I tend to find that we let in more of those folks into our samples than a lot of our competition. You put all of that together and I think at the end of the day, we by far have the most trusted estimates for the Latino population when you look at us and our competition.
Matt Grossmann: Castro also finds that language use matters, along with linked fate across Latino groups.
Giovanni Castro: Linked fate is important for Latinos, I think. One thing is that a person is a Latino. A person cannot change that. If you are a Latino, you will continue to be a Latino. But a person can have a sentiment of linked fate to other Latinos. It is something that I find in my paper to be important, that a sentiment of linked fate to other Latinos is a strong determinant of democratic self-identification.
About language, the reason because I think it is important is because it’s a good indicator of assimilation. A low level of assimilation shows that a person is more aligned with the Democratic party. It’s not just the language. Spanish doesn’t have anything that moves you to the Democratic party, what means the Spanish language is the level of assimilation. That’s important.
Matt Grossmann: He says many Latinos may stay in the Democratic party due to social constraints, even if they lean toward conservatism.
Giovanni Castro: I think the polarizing effect is more important than the electoral effect in this case. Latinos in our state have historically been Democrats, with the exception of Cubans. Therefore, how much does the opinion of a group that historically have not supported you at the electoral level matter to the Republican party? I think not really much. Regardless of whether a Latino vote Democratic because he considers it a better option, or if he decides to vote for the Democratic party because he hates Donald Trump, both votes has the same value, it’s still a single vote.
Recently, Ismail White and Chryl Laird published a book named Steadfast Democrats. They argue that there is a black racialized social constraint that push blacks to engage in political action to support Democratic party. We conclude that blacks are generally constrained by the presence of other blacks who will report their loyalty to the Democratic party by over reporting [inaudible 00:39:39] to the Democratic party and to a Democratic candidate and several other electoral participation activities.
I think that something similarly happened with Latinos. I think Latinos are socially constrained not to show any support to Donald Trump because there is a social cost to Latinos to recognize they support Donald Trump. But one thing is what they politically recognize, and other thing is how they vote.
Matt Grossmann: But there are openings for Republicans. Each Latino nationality group has different issue interests to be targeted.
Giovanni Castro: The first thing to be, to not treat first generation Latinos as if they were equal. I think they are starting to that campaigns should be targeted, not to Latinos, but to Mexican specifically, to Cubans, to Puerto Ricans, to Venezuelans. And why? That is because those have different matters. For example, the immigration policies might be of interest for Mexicans and Central Americans, but not for Puerto Ricans because the United States imposed the American citizenship to Puerto Ricans more than one century ago. Puerto Ricans doesn’t have any problem of illegal immigration here. Other example, both Mexicans and Puerto Ricans are not interested in the Cuban blockade and the economic implications. It is not a problem that matters for them. Mexicans are not interested in when the US will invade Venezuela. That not matter with Mexico. I think in this scenario, the campaign strategies needs to be targeted to a specific subpopulations of Latinos.
Matt Grossmann: The US parties are usually considered on the right in Latin American politics, but those perceptions might be shaped by policies and socialists messages.
Giovanni Castro: It is important first to emphasize that the left-right spectrum is not the same state as in the rest of Latin America. While in the US, some people might even consider the Democratic party as liberal or even as central left party, in Latin America, the whole American politics, including Democrat party, is perceived as conservative.
Now that doesn’t mean that the discourse of fear of socialism does not continue to be significant. Even though in recent years, the percentage of people, including Latinos, who are not afraid of socialism has decreased. Regardless of whether they support it, we cannot forget that the Cold War was not just a conflict between the US and the Soviet Union, but had plenty other implications. It’s important to keep in mind that the United States has ever considered Latin America as its back yard and has always felt with the [inaudible 00:42:48] to impose and to implement policies in racial groups, precedents in Latin America. The Cold War period, as a historical period, was not the exception.
During the Cold War, the United States was in charge of eradicating socialism or anything that seemed to socialize by all possible means, including by invasions, imposing precedent. In Latin America, a good example is that Condor plan it with the United States imposed right-wing dictatorship in South American countries, as Chile, Argentina. Paraguay, Uruguay. The reason because it is important to understanding of how Latinos have a possible fear of socialism in United States is that Latin America, the fear of becoming Cuba or Venezuela has been cultivated. This is reflected in fear to any progressive idea that will be perceived as left wing and aim to turning your country into Cuba or Venezuela, which are commonly used us examples of bad and undesirable countries to live. All this is reflected in both in Latin Americans, in their respective countries, and Latin Americans who are currently in the United States.
Matt Grossmann: Where do we go from here? Castro will be looking at urban rural differences that might be due to socialization in democratic cities.
Giovanni Castro: I think that it is important to recognize that many Latino populations in the United States are in historically Democratic cities in historically Democratic states. By example, there is a big population of Latinos mainly from Mexican origin in California. There is a big population of Puerto Ricans in New York. The [inaudible 00:44:56] that Mexicans in California have and the [inaudible 00:44:59] that Puerto Ricans have is [inaudible 00:45:04] that leans to the Democratic party. Under these circumstances, it’s understandable that they are usually Democrats. That’s why I argue, by example, that we cannot apply this knowledge to the understanding of Puerto Ricans in Florida. We need to study the Puerto Ricans in Florida as a new phenomenon that we need to recognize that we to know that we need to research on that.
Matt Grossmann: Sanchez says police brutality was also a major issue this year. He sees some potential for a cross racial minority coalition for reform.
Gabriel Sanchez: One thing that wasn’t really discussed much this campaign season is how much police brutality, police reform, police violence, all of that conversation about structural racism that we saw really ignite major protests across the country. How much did that translate to the Latino population? Did it have any effect on actual mobilization of Latinos to turn out on the poll?
One thing, I think I put a piece out on Brookings about this, particularly for the young Latino electorate. We actually saw that be a pretty dominant issue and a mobilizing factor for a lot of Latinos. Our data suggests a lot of that is because Latinos, at the end of the day, face a lot of the same pressures with police violence and excessive force that the African-American community does. I think once Latinos started to see that widespread movement, I think that’s something we’re going to pay close attention to moving forward.
Will that energy and enthusiasm, particularly among Latinos under 30, translate into a longer movement, a longer push at the state level to really accomplish police reform? How much pressure will there be on the Biden team and administration as they take over to do something about some of these issues that Latinos and African-Americans in particular, two key subgroups that were vital to the Biden victory, how much will they be able to deliver on some of these policy issues that clearly mobilized at least a large segment of young Latinos?
Matt Grossmann: There’s a lot more to learn. The Science of Politics is available biweekly from the Niskanen Center. I’m your host, Matt Grossman. Thanks to Gabriel Sanchez and Giovanni Castro for joining me. Please check out Latinos and the 2016 election and the Influence of Country of Origin and the Process of Party Identification Acquisition. Then listen in next time.