Nonedecision 2020: Correcting the Narrative: The Complexity of the Latinx Vote

Photo by Courtney Hedger on Unsplash

One of the narratives coming out of the 2020 elections results is the high proportion of Latinx voters supporting President Donald Trump’s reelection. Depending on what polls you look at, the national exit polls, AP Votecast, or Latino Decisions, the Latinx vote for Trump ranged between twenty-seven and thirty-five percent. This means that Democratic candidate Joe Biden won the majority of the Latinx vote, following the pattern of Latinx voters preferring Democratic Party candidates since at least 1980. Still, President Trump increased his share of the Latinx vote since the 2016 exit polls and the Latino Decisions survey from that year.

To those who have studied Latinx politics for years, this comes as no surprise. There has always been a significant Republican cohort in the Latinx community. Trump’s performance with Latinx voters is not out of step with previous elections but a regression to the mean. Since 1980 only two Republican candidates have received less than thirty percent of the Latinx vote according to the exit polls: Mitt Romney in 2012 (twenty-seven percent) and Donald Trump in 2016 (twenty-eight percent).

The Latino Decisions election eve surveys from 2016 and 2020 show evidence that many Republican Latinxs simply returned to the party. Hillary Clinton won among Latinx voters by a sixty-one-point margin (79-18) in 2016. In 2016 just seventy-five percent of Latinx Republicans supported Trump while Clinton carried ninety-seven percent of Latinx Democrats. In 2020, eighty-four percent of Latinx Republicans voted for Trump and ninety-five percent of Democrats for Biden.

The main difference between Latinx Democrats and Republicans is their ranking of issues. Among Democrats, the coronavirus was the main issue they voted for (sixty percent). Republicans ranked the economy as their most important issue (forty-four percent). This is consistent with other pre-election polls. For example, Socioanalítica Research’s Secular Voices Survey found in September that Trump voters were mostly worried about the economy and Biden voters were concerned about the coronavirus.

These partisan divides are reflected in the diversity of the Latinx experience. Conservative Cuban Americans in South Florida returned to the Republican Party after Clinton narrowly won their vote in 2016. In Arizona, Latinx activists who have worked for nearly a decade achieving victories—such as the recall of anti-immigrant state legislator Russell Pearce and the ousting of sheriff Joe Arpaio—helped flip the state for Biden. In Central Florida, Trump lost the Puerto Rican vote by a nearly three-to-one margin as the memory of the deficient federal response to Hurricane Maria in 2017 still looms large.

We also should not forget the religious diversity of Latinxs. Catholic Latinxs tend to prefer Democratic Party candidates. Nonreligious Latinxs are the most Democratic-leaning, while Latinx Protestants lean toward the Republican Party. Though Latinx vote data by religion is not currently available, it will not be surprising if the differences between these groups increased with Catholic and secular Latinxs heavily favoring Biden and Protestants voting even stronger for Trump.

Latinx voters are diverse, their votes reflecting their experiences and beliefs. Just because the mainstream media covers them as a monolith, does not mean that they are.