“In the lead-up to the election, there were plenty of signs that Biden’s support among Latino voters in key swing states might be weaker than Clinton’s in 2016, but some of the shifts wound up being very large. In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, for instance, which is 68 percent Hispanic, Trump narrowed his deficit by 22 percentage points between 2016 and 2020; in Texas’s Starr County, which is 99 percent Hispanic, Trump improved by a stunning 55 percentage points.
However, as the chart below shows, Trump’s gains among Latino voters were hardly universal. In fact, the places where Trump appears to have gained the most support were largely in rural areas or among more conservative Latino voters like Cuban Americans. In suburban and urban areas, the story was much more mixed. (And, to be clear, Biden still won the overwhelming majority of Latino votes.)
One important factor to keep in mind here — which is partially why some of these shifts toward Trump seem so pronounced — is that Trump did really poorly with Latino voters in 2016. According to pre-election surveys, he won just 18 percent of Latino voters in 2016 but 27 percent this year, putting him back in the territory of other recent Republican presidential nominees.
Additionally, part of what we’re seeing here isn’t necessarily something unique to Latino voters at all, but an extension of America’s growing urban-rural divide.”
“The education split has been especially significant among white voters, and this rift appears to have widened as Trump lost ground in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, especially in areas where many white voters have four-year college degrees.”
“Part of what is happening, according to Arlie Hochschild, a sociologist at the University of California who has written extensively about conservative voters, is that many less educated white voters have come to see Trump as their champion. “They feel that Trump is making them great again — their social class and their identity as whites,” she said. “Many of them feel that as white [people], they’re discriminated against.” She added that even if Biden might have personally appealed to those voters, it might not have been enough to overcome their suspicion that the Democratic Party as a whole was hostile to their worldview.
Importantly, Trump’s gains among white voters without a college degree were less substantial than his losses among educated white voters, and that appears to have cost him in these three states. This was most stark in Wisconsin, where Trump’s margin improved in 39 of the state’s 72 counties, but fell in 31 and didn’t change in two. The counties where he lost ground tended to be bigger and more well-educated, while the ones where he gained were generally smaller and less well-educated. In aggregate, these shifts added up to a narrow loss in Wisconsin for Trump in 2020 instead of the close win he achieved in 2016.”
“Donald Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to win Zapata County’s vote in a hundred years. But it wasn’t its turn from a deep-blue history that seemed to be the source of such fascination but rather that, according to the census, more than 94 percent of Zapata’s population is Hispanic or Latino.
Zapata (population less than 15,000) was the only county in South Texas that flipped red, but it was by no means an anomaly: To the north, in more than 95-percent Hispanic Webb County, Republicans doubled their turnout. To the south, Starr County, which is more than 96-percent Hispanic, experienced the single biggest tilt right of any place in the country; Republicans gained by 55 percentage points compared with 2016. The results across a region that most politicos ignored in their preelection forecasts ended up helping to dash any hopes Democrats had of taking Texas.”
“The shift, residents and scholars of the region say, shouldn’t be surprising if, instead of thinking in terms of ethnic identity, you consider the economic and cultural issues that are specific to the people who live there. Although the vast majority of people in these counties mark “Hispanic or Latino” on paper, very few long-term residents have ever used the word “Latino” to describe themselves. Ascribing Trump’s success in South Texas to his campaign winning more of “the Latino vote” makes the same mistake as the Democrats did in this election: Treating Latinos as a monolith.
Ross Barrera, a retired U.S. Army colonel and chair of the Starr County Republican Party, put it this way: “It’s the national media that uses ‘Latino.’ It bundles us up with Florida, Doral, Miami. But those places are different than South Texas, and South Texas is different than Los Angeles. Here, people don’t say we’re Mexican American. We say we’re Tejanos.””
“Nearly everyone speaks Spanish, but many regard themselves as red-blooded Americans above anything else. And exceedingly few identify as people of color. (Even while 94 percent of Zapata residents count their ethnicity as Hispanic/Latino on the census, 98 percent of the population marks their race as white.) Their Hispanicness is almost beside the point to their daily lives.
In the end, Trump’s success in peeling off Latino votes in South Texas had everything to do with not talking to them as Latinos. His campaign spoke to them as Tejanos, who may be traditionally Democratic but have a set of specific concerns—among them, the oil and gas industry, gun rights and even abortion—amenable to the Republican Party’s positions, and it resonated. To be sure, it didn’t work with all of Texas’ Latinos; Trump still lost that vote by more than double digits statewide, and Joe Biden won more of the nationwide Latino vote than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. But Trump proved that seeing specific communities as persuadable voters and offering targeted messaging to match—fear of socialism in Miami-Dade’s Venezuelan and Cuban communities, for example—can be more effective than a blanket campaign that treats people as census categories. And in the end, it was enough to keep Florida and Texas in his column.”
“by pursuing the coveted “Latino vote” nationally, the Biden campaign created a massive blind spot for itself in South Texas, where criticizing Trump’s immigration regime and championing diversity just does not play well among a Hispanic population where many neither see themselves as immigrant or diverse.”
“One of the biggest factors in a Hispanic voter’s political identity is how long his or her family has been in the United States. For instance, foreign-born Latinos and the U.S.-born children of Latino immigrants tend to be more Democratic than Latinos whose families have been in the U.S. for at least three generations. According to Latino Decisions’s election-eve poll, first-generation Hispanic Americans1 were 12 percentage points more likely than third- or higher-generation Hispanic Americans to support Clinton in 2016 (84 percent vs. 72 percent), although both groups strongly supported her over Trump.
“Many Latino Americans can trace their family history to before the United States was the United States,” says Melissa Michelson, a professor at Menlo College who studies Latino politics. (Specifically, 32 percent of Latino registered voters are third generation or higher, according to Pew Research Center’s 2019 National Survey of Latinos.) “And they have a very different perspective from folks who are closer to the immigration experience.”
Gary Segura, a co-founder and senior partner at Latino Decisions, sees both economic and cultural factors at play. First, higher-generation Hispanic Americans are likelier to be higher income, which nudges them toward the Republican side of the aisle. But their Hispanic identity also tends to be weaker. For instance, a 2017 Pew report found that only about one-third of self-identified Hispanics whose families have been in the U.S. for at least three generations had parents who took them to Hispanic cultural celebrations or who spoke often about their heritage while growing up, and relatively few live in predominantly Hispanic or Latino neighborhoods. According to that Pew report, Latinos are more likely than white or Black people to marry people of other racial and ethnic backgrounds — which means that Latinos with deeper family roots in the U.S. are also more likely to be of mixed ancestry. Simply put, the longer a Hispanic family has lived in the U.S., the likelier they are to have assimilated — and vote more like white Americans, who lean toward the Republican Party.”
“The irony is that the term Hispanic is inclusive and gender-neutral but, as the Pew study explains, it spurred “resistance” in the 1990s because “it embraced a strong connection with Spain.” However, its gender-specific and hence suddenly problematic replacement, Latino, hardly severs all connections with Spain, let alone with European imperialism.”