Trump gains with Latino voters driven by rural support

President Trump made inroads among Latino voters in Tuesday’s elections even as former Vice President Joe Biden claimed a strong majority in key states, a sign of an evolving political calculus that increasingly puts the U.S.’s largest minority group at the center of the path to an electoral majority.

Exit polls show that Biden captured 66 percent of the Latino vote, about the same percentage that Hillary Clinton achieved in 2016. Trump earned 32 percent of the vote among Latinos, up four points from his performance in 2016 and the highest share any Republican has won since George W. Bush sought re-election in 2004.

In raw numbers, both candidates profited from a massive spike in Latino turnout. Early estimates suggest that Latino voters accounted for four million more votes than in 2012. Biden’s ability to match Clinton’s and former President Barack Obama’s performance among Latino voters meant, in real terms, he netted millions more votes than either Clinton or Obama did.

But inside those numbers, a new divide appears to be emerging among Latino voters: Rural Latinos gave President Trump some unusually strong margins, while Latinos in urban areas swarmed to Biden’s side. The urban-rural divide that defines the struggle to control power in Washington is more than just a phenomenon of white voters.

Among the 85 counties in America where more than half of residents are Latino, President Trump won more votes than he did in the 2016 elections in all but eight — and those eight are all in California and Washington, two states that are still counting ballots. Trump won a higher vote share in all but two of those counties. One of the two is Texas’s Bexar County, home of San Antonio, one of the nation’s largest urban areas.

Democrats acknowledge they fell far short of expectations in one urban core dominated by Hispanics, Florida’s Miami-Dade County. Biden only narrowly won the county, and two House Democrats who represent heavily Latino districts — Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D) and Donna Shalala (D) — lost their seats to GOP challengers.

Across the rest of the nation, Trump’s gains came in more rural areas, like Texas’s Rio Grande Valley. He scored 43 percent of the vote in Cameron County, 11 points higher than his 2016 vote share. He grew his vote share to 41 percent in Hidalgo County, up 13 points from four years ago. In Starr County, where Clinton won about 80 percent of the vote in 2016, Trump trailed Biden by just five percentage points.

“This is just the beginning,” said Mayra Flores, a Republican activist who oversees Hispanic outreach in Hidalgo County. “Eventually, we’re going to flip South Texas if we continue.”

More granular data from metropolitan areas that are not majority Hispanic show the Latino vote in urban cores favored Biden overwhelmingly. In Phoenix, Tucson and Philadelphia, precincts with high concentrations of Latino voters favored Biden by a three-to-one or four-to-one margin. Democratic vote shares in heavily Latino precincts in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio rose by four to seven points.

“A majority of Latinos in the U.S. live in counties that are not majority Latino,” said Matt Barreto, a political scientist at UCLA who conducted polling among Latino voters for the Biden campaign. “There does appear to be less support in rural areas.”

Barreto also pointed to a gender gap that exists among Latino voters. Latino men favored Biden by 25 points, but Latino women backed Biden by 42 — the largest edge for either candidate among any demographic group except African Americans.

“We have had a gender gap in the Latino community since the first data was available in the 1980s,” Barreto said. “A majority of Hispanic men have and almost certainly will continue to vote Democrat. They are still dramatically over performing white women. But Hispanic women are performing even better.”

Both trends mirror other demographic groups who increasingly align with one side or the other depending on the size of their communities. Trump ran ahead of Biden in small cities and rural areas by nine points, while Biden beat Trump in cities larger than 50,000 by a whopping 23 percentage points. Trump narrowly edged Biden among all men, while Biden scored a 13-point victory among women.

The results illustrate again that Latino voters are no more of a cohesive voting bloc than are whites. Latino voters of Cuban, Colombian or Venezuelan descent in South Florida have vastly different voting habits and priorities than do Puerto Rican voters in Orlando and Philadelphia, or Mexican American voters in Phoenix and California’s Inland Empire.

“There are regional differences that are important,” Barreto said.

Both Biden and Trump spent millions testing and targeting Latino voters. Barreto’s team surveyed Latino voters in nine states, including northern battlegrounds like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The Biden campaign used narrators with different accents in paid advertising — someone with a Mexican accent in Arizona, a Puerto Rican accent in Orlando and a Cuban accent in Miami. The Trump campaign made a point of recruiting Spanish-speaking volunteers.

“It made a huge difference to have more people who are bilingual in South Texas in the Republican Party,” Flores said.

In Texas, Trump’s team benefitted from years of hard work by Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who made the Rio Grande Valley a priority during his 2018 reelection bid. Though the area is traditionally a Democratic bastion, Abbott made a point of visiting the area on his first formal campaign swing after declaring he would seek a second term.

“Texas Republicans have a history of having an okay relationship with Latinos,” said Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a political scientist at the University of Texas’s Lyndon Johnson School of Public Affairs.

Trump also took advantage of an effort by Texas Republicans to break the power of Democratic political machines in South Texas. The Republican-led legislature passed a measure ending straight-ticket voting in Texas, a means of casting ballots disproportionately favored by Latino voters.

“There was no real grassroots campaigning because of the pandemic,” Soto said. “It was very hard to introduce yourself in the middle of a pandemic, in an area that’s more rural, that’s more traditional, where you need more old-school grassroots politics.”

Rafael Bernal contributed.

Tags Arizona Barack Obama California Debbie Mucarsel-Powell Donald Trump Donna Shalala Florida Hillary Clinton Hispanics Joe Biden latinos Texas
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