What really happened with Latinos this election
© Joe Raedle/Getty Images

It happens every election cycle. As we wait for the results of the presidential race, a slew of instant analysis from pundits fills the airwaves. Half-baked theories about why this county or another turned blue or red take up hours of programming. Then, as time goes on and people actually look at the data, early explanations are exposed for being astoundingly wrong. Despite that, the initial narratives stick even when proven wrong.

The biggest stinker coming from cable news talking heads in 2020 is the concept that Latinos are responsible for President Trump’s slight overperformance of his polling averages ahead of the election.

As the leader of the most important political action committee building power for progressive Hispanics in Florida, and more importantly, as someone that’s actually looked at the data on election turnout and exit polling, I can tell you unequivocally that the claims saying Latinos swung hard for Trump are just plain wrong. A majority of Latinos voted for Biden in every single one of the 50 states.


Here are the facts: most national exit polling shows Trump performed better with Hispanic voters by about 3 points when compared to 2016, garnering around 32 percent of the vote this year when compared to 29 percent four years ago. But the real big takeaway of the election we just witnessed is that people of color, and especially Latinos, exercised their right to vote in an unprecedented manner. 20.9 million Latinos voted in this election, according to projections from Bloomberg News, give or take a few hundred thousand. That’s an astounding increase of 65 percent from the 12.7 million who voted in the last election, which was itself a record for Latinos.

Because the growth of the total electorate far exceeded any slight shift towards Trump, that means the gap between Republican votes and Democratic votes coming from our communities grew by millions. By one calculation, 7.1 million more Latinos voted for Biden than they did for Trump, handily besting results from 2016, when it is estimated 4.7 million more Latinos voted for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden sends 'best wishes' to Clinton following hospitalization The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle MORE than they did for Trump.

While it is true there were marginal gains for Trump, these trends are part of the change in any demographic group election to election. Looking beyond the topline numbers, it’s also obvious any gains by Trump with Latino voters were overwhelmingly concentrated in South Florida and South Texas. In South Florida, Republican messaging that smeared all Democrats as socialists was seemingly effective in getting Cuban-Americans who had been Never-Trumpers in 2016 to pull the lever for the president. Gains by Democrats in the Puerto Rican community in Central Florida, which came out enthusiastically and voted 7-to-3 for Biden, were simply not enough to counterbalance the numbers out of Miami. In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, the GOP continued on gains it’s been eking out from rural, culturally conservative Hispanic-majority counties since 2012.

So if those are the facts, why do so-called Democratic political experts and supposedly neutral media insist regurgitating what are really GOP talking points about Trump strength amongst Latinos?

Quite frankly, there’s a scapegoating factor at play by some liberal commentators, whose implicit assumption believes communities of color should vote en bloc and without question for Democratic candidates. Nowhere is this double-standard more obvious than in the way some Dems have angrily lashed out at Cuban-American voters in Miami for putting Florida in Trump’s column, agonizing over a state that was always going to be a 50-50 toss-up anyway. Yet try and find a video clip or tweet from one of those same commentators railing against the voters in Maine who sent Republican Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMcConnell gets GOP wake-up call Republicans are today's Dixiecrats Biden's push for unity collides with entrenched partisanship MORE back to the United States Senate? Go ahead and try to find just one. I’ll wait.

The fact is that although we’ve seen some improvements in outreach to Latinos in Florida, it remains a state where Democrats and liberals have much work to be done. Better research and not just better messaging but better relationships with leaders in the Latino community, including Latino evangelicals, who make up the largest group of Latino swing voters.

It is not impossible to work hard to earn a bigger margin for Democrats in the next election within Hispanic communities. Quite the opposite. We need to work hard to build up the Latino vote and stop whatever small inroads the GOP was able to make in our communities this election. It is imperative that we take on the kind of work that starts with truly understanding our people, and not simply ascribing our behavior to oversimplified, superficial and often incorrect explanations.

Marcos Vilar is the founder of United for Progress, a progressive political action committee aimed at building power for Hispanics in the state of Florida.