Latino voters could tip the election in Trump’s favour as they abandon Biden

NEW YORK CITY – Sailing around Miami high-rises, the Latino group Los 3 de la Habana went viral in 2020 for a campy song in Spanish that proclaimed “Ay, ay, ay/ Oh My God/ I’m going to vote for Donald Trump.”

Their performance amid “Keep America Great” flags exemplified a growing trend among America’s Latino or Hispanic population: Mr Trump increasingly making inroads with this traditionally Democrat-leaning population. Four years later, this trend seems to be consolidating, and could be devastating for Joe Biden’s election chances.

The Democratic Party has been struggling with Hispanic people as a voting bloc, with places like Florida’s Miami-Dade County voting 22 per cent more Republican than in 2016 and areas like Starr County, in Southern Texas, voting 55 per cent more Republican.

A recent CNBC poll suggests that Mr Trump could surpass Mr Biden among the Latino electorate in the upcoming election, with 46 per cent of people supporting him versus 42 per cent supporting the US President. In swing states like Arizona, where Hispanic people represent 32.5 per cent of the population, or Nevada, where they make up 30.3 per cent, their support could end up tipping the result.

“If you look at the margins in states like Arizona, Biden won by very small margins,” said Alfonso Aguilar, director of Hispanic engagement at the conservative American Principles Project. “This election will be decided in three states by 40,000 votes.”

Luis Figueroa, second vice-chair of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, says Republicans’ growing popularity among the Hispanic population is a result of unfavourable economic conditions spurred by Mr Biden’s policies. “There are many people concerned about inflation and high prices,” he said in Spanish.

“Many factors, mainly about future prospects, economic, job security and gasoline prices have led people to say ‘we were better off with President Donald Trump,’” says Nilsa Alvarez, Hispanic division director at the conservative Faith & Freedom Coalition, via email. “Since 2021, Hispanics have been DEEPLY hurt by the state of our nation’s economy.”

Speaking to US Spanish-language TV network Univision about the conservative shift among Latino voters, Mr Trump said: “The Latino vote is so incredible because they’re unbelievable people. They have incredible skills, incredible energy, and they’re very entrepreneurial.”

For Mike Madrid, an expert on Latino voting behaviour and author of upcoming book The Latino Century, Democrats previously attracted this electorate partly because of an identity-based approach to politics.

Donald Trump supporters protest outside the Clark County Election Department in Las Vegas in November 2020 (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty)

“The Democratic Party has always approached Latinos through a racial and ethnic priority lens where immigration was front and centre,” he said.

In the 2008 elections, Barack Obama obtained 67 per cent of the Hispanic vote, and only 31 per cent opted for John McCain. The disparity continued in 2012 when Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney 71 per cent to 27 per cent – and in 2016, when Mr Trump obtained 28 per cent of the population’s vote, 38 per cent less than Hillary Clinton.

But over time, with the assimilation of Latino population into American society, economic issues have gained prominence. With more than half of the Hispanic population having only completed high school or less and many working in blue-collar jobs like farming, their voting patterns have slowly started to resemble that of white working-class voters, a Republican key demographic. In 2020, Mr Trump won 41 per cent of Hispanic voters without college.

“This education divide that is defining American politics starts to now take on a Latino flavour,” added Mr Madrid.

Representing 19.1 per cent of the US population in 2022, the Latino or Hispanic population constitutes America’s largest ethnic or racial minority, up from 12.6 per cent in 2000. This diverse demographic of people with Mexican, Cuban or Puerto Rican origin, among others, has traditionally been seen as a reliable vote for the Democratic Party. “We are a nation of immigrants,” said Mr Biden at a 2022 Hispanic Heritage Month reception. “And the possibilities that exist are no more evident anywhere than in the Hispanic community.”

Explaining the impact of Mr Biden’s economic policies on the Latino population could help the Democrats retain these voters in November. “One big challenge that the current administration will face this year is how to communicate the policies that the government has been able to enact that have delivered measurable benefits to Latinos,” said Eduardo García, of California-based nonprofit the Latino Community Foundation.

Mr García highlights the American Rescue Plan, a 2021 stimulus bill to mitigate the effects of Covid, which has helped keep 24 per cent of Latino minors out of poverty. The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to modernise the country’s infrastructure has improved broadband access, which only 65 per cent of Latinos enjoy.

HIALEAH, FL - NOVEMBER 06: Los 3 de la Havana performs at the Latin GRAMMY Street Parties on November 6, 2011 in Hialeah, Florida. (Photo by John Parra/WireImage for NARAS)
Los 3 de la Habana went viral in 2020 with a song proclaiming that they were voting for Mr Trump (Photo: John Parra/WireImage for Naras)

According to a recent Financial Times poll, almost half of Americans think they are worse off financially since Mr Biden became president, and only 17 per cent say they are better off. Additionally, 42 per cent think Mr Trump is the best candidate to manage the economy, while only a third chose Mr Biden.

Immigration seems to be the Democrats’ other Achilles’ heel. In a January CBS poll, 63 per cent of respondents said Mr Biden should be tougher on immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border, and 75 per cent defined the situation there as a “crisis” or “very serious”.

According to Mr Aguilar, Democrats’ rejection of tougher border security measures is driving Latino support away. “They [Latinos] come here because they understand that part of the American dream is law and order. A Hispanic person sees what is happening at the border and they say ‘this is wrong’,” he told i.

But Eva Santos Veloz, a Daca (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient and activist, says migrant protections and economic opportunities should be at the centre of the Democratic campaign. “Many migrants have family here, and they have the right to vote,” said Ms Veloz.

Democrats should offer regional solutions to counter Republicans’ anti-immigration rhetoric, said Ms Veloz, to mobilise the population’s vote. “They [Democrats] should focus more on a state-by-state basis and promise smaller changes to get the Latino vote of states like Texas, where they are the most affected,” she said.

Above all, Ms Veloz said, Democrats need to illustrate the implications a Republican return to power would have for the Latino population. “If the Republican Party wins, our economy is going to be affected, we are going to be affected in all different areas,” she said.