Can Biden Win While Leaking Latinos?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this is a dark cloud in recent sunny polling for Biden.
- Polls show Biden behind Hillary Clinton’s pace among Latino voters — a fast-growing and critical bloc.
- The numbers could be part of a broader trend among the working class.
By nearly every measure, Joe Biden seems like he is in a strong position to defeat President Donald Trump. The Democrat is ahead by nearly 9 percentage points on average in national polls, as Trump’s favorability ratings have cratered to some of the worst marks of his presidency amid the coronavirus crisis and economic woes. Aside from leading with Black voters, women and both city-dwellers and suburbanites, Biden has even eaten into Trump’s margins among older voters and white men, according to a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll.
Yet that same poll contains a kernel of concern for Biden, particularly compared to past Democratic candidates.
While 59 percent of Latinos said they would back Biden over Trump, that’s a drop from the 66 percent who voted for Clinton in 2016.
Subsequent polls have mirrored that soft support, including one conducted by Latino Decisions in six battleground states last month, showing Biden getting 60 percent of those voters, though Trump drew only 25 percent, with 11 percent undecided.
“We kind of have an unwritten rule of thumb as Democrats when it comes to the Latino electorate: You really need to win 65 percent,” says former Biden senior adviser Moe Vela, who now works as chief transparency officer of the technology company TransparentBusiness.
The shift of suburban voters, particularly women, and people who voted for both Barack Obama and Trump, to Biden could be enough to make up for losing some Latino voters, Vela adds. However, it does make Biden’s margin for error thinner, particularly given that a Democratic nominee likely has to win the popular vote by more than a few percentage points to overcome GOP advantages with the Electoral College. The Biden campaign “needs, and has needed for several months, a tremendous amount of improvement,” Vela says.
People always forget that Latinos are not traditionally liberal. They are traditionally Democrats, and the reason is that sense of inclusion.
Moe Vela, former Biden adviser
The battle will be waged across the country, but particularly in Florida and Arizona, where more than 20 percent of eligible voters are Latino. As president, Trump has taken a hard line against the Cuban and Venezuelan regimes. And his campaign has in turn aggressively targeted Venezuelan and Cuban voters — many of whom fled those countries for Florida — with ad campaigns raising fears of socialism. It also has an interactive website dedicated to Trump-supporting Latinos. “As the daughter of a freedom fighter who fought against an oppressive, communist regime in Cuba, I have seen firsthand how socialism has destroyed prosperous nations like Venezuela,” said Mercedes Schlapp, one of Trump’s senior communications advisers, during an online Latinos for Trump event to celebrate the Fourth of July.
When the Biden campaign toured Pennsylvania and Iowa with a “Todos Con Biden” slogan last fall, they forgot to lock the URL down, leading to the Trump team taking over the site with a landing page that said “Oops, Joe forgot about Latinos.” And in July, the president ran ads defending Goya, a popular Hispanic foods brand, after its founder supported Trump and liberals threatened to boycott it.
The Biden team hasn’t responded meaningfully to the Goya controversy, but did make key hires back in May: former Clinton staffer Jason Rodriguez, as coalitions director, and former Kamala Harris backer Julie Chavez Rodriguez as a senior adviser on Latino outreach. Latinos overwhelmingly backed Bernie Sanders when the Democratic primary was still competitive, creating another challenge for Biden on the left.
“You have to remind them that … at the end of the day, we are actually with you,” Vela says. “That’s a different message than to an independent, or undecided, Latino.”
The Latino Decisions poll showed that Latino voters with a high school education (or less) were slightly more likely to approve of Trump’s job performance than college-educated ones (though the vote share for Biden was consistent across all Latino education levels). If there is a trend of Hispanic voters becoming cozier with the GOP — despite Trump’s stark anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, and having called Mexicans “rapists” when launching his first campaign five years ago — it may track with the larger shift of working-class voters switching from Democrats to Republicans over the last few decades.
That would be troubling for those “demographics are destiny” Democrats hoping that rising Latino populations across America will ensure liberal gains for decades to come. “People always forget that Latinos are not traditionally liberal. They are traditionally Democrats, and the reason is that sense of inclusion,” Vela says. He believes Biden will shore up his Latino support once the election nears, and he is more able to directly deliver a unifying message to contrast to Trump’s tactics. “I don’t think, at the end of the day, he will have weak Latino support,” Vela says.