Trump’s Hispanic Bump | The American Conservative
There is no political question as consistently trending among any particular class of conservative intellectuals as “Why aren’t Hispanics more conservative?” The perennial arises in every election cycle.
After Mitt Romney’s painful defeat in 2012, the accepted wisdom was that Hispanics had to be persecuted through immigration moderation. “When Hispanic Americans realize that a GOP candidate or candidate does not want them in the United States, they will ignore our next sentence,” read the 2013 post-election “autopsy” made by the Republican National Committee.
But the turn of Hispanic Americans towards Trump in 2020 was unexpected to most, and therefore has been particularly vigorously dissected. The regnant wisdom today, if any, is that Trump charged the GOP’s turn into a multi-ethnic workers’ party. In that narrative, Trump was bleeding white suburbanites, but his accomplishments among ethnic minorities suggested that the GOP had done something right, perhaps a more muscular struggle against traditional elites.
It’s a compelling narrative that has some truth in it. The 2020 GOP trend, a surprise to those who thought Trump was a political poison, suggests we must learn a lesson.
These lessons are complicated, however, and the nature of the Hispanic voting patterns in the 2020 election means national explanations may be inadequate for the turnaround.
The more you dig into the data, the harder it is to even refer to Hispanic voters as a bloc.
Take Texas. Aggregate data from the New York Times In the local counties, we are seeing the huge shift in Hispanic Americans that excited experts on Election Night and beyond. The shift in Texas, however, was highly localized, hitting places like Starr County along the Rio Grande and largely breaking up into counties further north of the border. Hispanic voters in particular have shifted Heavier towards Trump in more Hispanic counties.
Starr County, deep red below, voted almost 30 percent more Republicans in 2020 than in 2016. In contrast, the average shift in votes from 2016 to 2020 in the Texas-Hispanic majority counties was 7.5 percent. The graph shows a clear pattern: The counties of Rio Grande and the counties on the southern tip of Texas fluctuated more than 10 percent, while Hispanics in East Texas moved less.
But while the GOP won those voters, it lost votes in places where more people live. There are plenty of examples. Large suburbs like Tarrant County voted for Trump in 2016, but not 2020. Outside of the Rio Grande Valley, non-Hispanic majority districts shifted towards Biden, enough to give Biden a roughly 4-point gain over Clinton’s performance. Big election narratives may be over-determined, but “Biden won with suburban mothers, Trump won with POC workers” broadly describes Texas history.
What Motivated Hispanic Voters? Polls leading up to the Texas Politics Project general election revealed how Hispanic voters, Democrats and Republicans saw important issues in the running.
While there are some similarities, the percentage of each group that addresses these issues is very different. A quarter of Hispanic Democrats viewed Covid-19 as their top concern, up from 15 percent of Hispanic Republicans.
It’s noteworthy how similar Texas Hispanic Republicans are in their top priorities to GOP members across the country. At the national level, they are concerned about the media, abortion and general moral decline. Both immigration and border security exist at the local level.
The differences between Hispanic Americans and other Republicans give us a general idea of what is best for capturing Hispanic voters. These voters cared far less about federal spending, debt, and political corruption, but more about the economy.
Unfortunately, these surveys are not broken down by region, but we can highlight a few takeaways. Traditional GOP bugbears like the deficit or national security are not a problem with these Hispanic Republicans (but no border security!). Much like their non-Hispanic counterparts, they are concerned about the media, the economy, and immigration policies, with the chief economist being one of these issues.
Hispanic Republicans, in particular, were particularly interested in economic issues during the summer. If there is a consistent approach to the data, these voters will be thrilled with the lockdown debate amid the pandemic. In contrast, the voters who were already in the democratic column hardly moved during the summer: the reopening became a highly motivating topic for one side, but not for the other.
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The swing towards Trump in Miami has been somewhat better understood in the traditional media. Crypto scammer Matthew Yglesias pointed this out Vox the “deep emotional and intellectual investments the city made in the Cold War in Latin America”. Politico expressed concern that memes and “disinformation” in WhatsApp groups were being sold to Hispanic communities in Florida, citing locals who claimed they were centrally coordinated. The concern was at least partially well founded: The Trump campaign invested deeply in organic messages to Miami’s Hispanic communities.
Far from focusing only on Cuban voters, the campaign highlighted issues of concern to a wide variety of constituencies: fighting dictatorship against Venezuelans, cultural war issues against evangelical Latinos, and general economic reopening. Some analysts believe that Trump won half of all non-Cuban Hispanics there. (While there is no data to support this observation, it certainly helped that messaging was fun, such as the catchy campaign jingle from “Latinos por Donald Trump”.)
The same pattern was seen in Texas: Trump did best among communities his campaign targeted directly and in areas where his administration significantly improved voter working lives.
In the case of Texas, at least, Trump really grew the pie and attracted voters who generally didn’t get to the polls. A postmortem analysis by Equis found that swing voters in the Rio Grande Valley are particularly likely to be non-regular voters: 57 percent of early and absent votes in the valley came from voters who had voted in one or fewer of the last three elections.
All the more puzzling is the GOP’s lack of reach for Hispanic voters in other cases. In Georgia, Hispanics make up more than 10 percent of the population. Biden’s voting margin among Hispanics was about 60,000 votes higher than John Ossoff’s in November, meaning Republicans had a unique opportunity to pull out Democratic voters who were skeptical of the Senate candidate.
However, the party consistently announced that the runoff election was a turnout and that the most effective use of time and energy would be to reach the grassroots. Immediately after the general election, a longtime political activist sent a lengthy memo to the National Republican Senatorial Committee offering free services to organize contacts with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and other Hispanic organizations. The memo set out how little financial investment was required: the main thing was to organize voters who were already interested. He was turned away gently but firmly. Supported by a wave of donations in small and large dollars, the Democrats covered Spanish-language television and radio. On January 5, Ossoff beat his opponent by less than 55,000 votes.
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The Hispanic majority counties bordering Mexico were shifting more towards Trump than those not on the border. Our data does not provide any particular insight into this apparent conundrum as the problem survey is not broken down by region. Some experts point to the high number of Hispanics employed by the Border Patrol, but that explanation is clearly not enough to capture the size of the swing towards Trump. The class composition of these communities should be emphasized: farm workers, Spanish or other, broke hard for Trump.
The 2013 GOP autopsy was correct in some ways: Hispanic voters are there to be won. The 2020 elections shattered perceptions that Hispanics en masse have a red line on immigration (or at least on restrictive immigration policies in practice). For Hispanics in the Texas Republican Coalition, immigration was one More more important driver of their vote than for non-Hispanics.
We cannot draw a clear line between GOP gains with Hispanics and losses in largely white suburbs – elections are strategically rare enough to withhold armchair experts with final explanations – so the intra-conservative debate continues. Political realignment skeptics will argue that Covid-19 and the reopening struggles created a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Trump-reluctant Hispanics to join his column. Believers in a “GOP of the working class” see the partisan cracks at the reopening possibly as the basis for future political struggles for state control, with an increasing number of political minorities finding the regulation of the Cordon Sanitaire unattractive.
A clear interpretation of the above was offered by the liberal media on the night of the elections and has since penetrated the public consciousness: Racial minorities vote for Trump when they become culturally whiter. “Latino is a made-up ethnic category that artificially matches white Cubans with black Puerto Ricans and indigenous Guatemalans and helps make statements [sic] why Latinos support Trump with the second highest rate, ”tweeted Nikole Hannah-Jones from the New York Times on November 4th.
It’s not wrong about the made-up nature of the Latin American / Hispanic racial identity, but it’s wrong about the actual distribution of Hispanic votes for Trump. His biggest gains were not among the best assimilated, white identifying Hispanics. His greatest gains were in the churches that were most Hispanic.
Which suggests that Hispanic racial identity may be so amorphous that it will be of limited use in Republican election campaigning. The Trump team increased its support in Hispanic communities by speaking to them directly and highlighting issues that are important to those communities. This approach, not a racist appeal, is the way forward.
Santi Ruiz is an employee reporter at Washington Free Beacon.
Lars Schonander is a software engineer at Lincoln Network.
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