By some accounts, Donald Trump has paved the way for the GOP to build a multiracial, working-class coalition, with Latinos in the lead. This narrative is over-blown.
Trump improved his margins in 78 of the nation’s 100 majority-Latino counties, compared with 2016 despite his anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican rhetoric and his dismal failure to contain a pandemic that has disproportionately impacted Latino communities.
Overall, Trump improved his performance by just four percentage points, doing about as well as John McCain in 2008 and much worse than George W. Bush, who won 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2004.
Still, how to explain the one out of three Latinos who supported Trump this year?
Diversity Among Latino Community
First, Latinos clearly are not a monolithic voting bloc. There’s great diversity within the community on issue preferences and political ideology. Latinos are segmented by generation, gender, national origins, and place of residence. Strategies that work with Latinos in large cities work less well in rural areas and small towns.
Young Latinos are much more likely than those in their 40s and above to favor Democratic positions on issues like immigration, gay marriage, and abortion. Many Latinos, especially evangelicals, are socially conservative; they are attracted by anti-abortion appeals.
Others, generations distant from their family’s immigration experience and concerned about job competition from new arrivals, can be receptive to hardline immigration restrictions.
Those whose families came from Cuba, Venezuela, or Nicaragua are highly susceptible to ads alleging that Democrats favor “socialism.” Some Latino males, indulging their machismo, prefer a “strong leader” figure like Trump.
This year, Latinos in the south Rio Grande Valley were sensitive to perceived threats to their jobs with locally crucial employers like the fossil fuel industry and the Border Patrol. In places like Philadelphia and Milwaukee, where Latinos marginally supported Trump, they seemed to give him credit for the pre-pandemic economy and his tough stance on urban protests.
All this suggests a need for more sharply targeted campaign messaging, especially on social media. Broad appeals to ethnic identity politics are less effective when so many second, third, and fourth-generation Latinos see themselves as working-class Americans. They are more concerned about bread-and-butter economic issues, health care, and law-and-order (such as threats to “defund the police”), and relatively less engaged with symbolic causes like protecting Dreamers and keeping migrant children out of cages.
Latino Grassroot Organizations
Second, a strong ground game is essential to success in Latino communities. Because they were more sensitive to the need for COVID-19 restrictions than their GOP counterparts, the Biden-Harris campaign avoided traditional methods of ground organizing, such as in-person door knocking.
Such canvassing was used to great effect by Bernie Sanders in vanquishing his Democratic competitors in the Nevada primary.
Democrats should work closely with immigrant-led, Latino grassroots organizations such as Mijente, Mi Familia Vota, Lucha, Aliento AZ, Georgia Latino Alliance, and others that have built an infrastructure in places like Arizona and Georgia.
These civic organizations are the building blocks of future Democratic victories in Latino-majority counties and cities with a large Latino presence.
Latinas for Biden
Third, Latinas played a critical role in Biden’s win – as did Black women. Not only did Latinas support Biden-Harris more strongly than male Latinos; they were instrumental in organizing at the grassroots level to defeat Trump.
Turnout by Latinas in battleground states was turbo-charged. The lesson is simple: Democrats should prioritize Latinas in their future voter engagement strategy.
Fourth, as various advocacy groups have noted, a huge amount of misinformation was directed at Latino voters by the Trump campaign, especially in the form of inflammatory videos that went viral on social media.
For example, a Facebook video, widely seen in Florida, purported to show two women, wrongly identified as affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement, violently overturning a table and chairs being used at a Latino family event.
In future elections, Democrats must act more quickly and forcefully to counteract disinformation narratives, particularly those that use anti-Blackness to garner votes among Latinos.
Lessons From Arizona
Finally, Democrats would do well to double down on the model that worked so well for them among Latinos in Arizona. Strong Latino support — 63 percent voted for Biden — was a major assist to flipping the state from red to blue, for the first time since 1996.
Grassroots groups had made sustained investments in organizing over a 10-year period, targeting Latinos who had voted inconsistently. Much of their effort was devoted to civic education to convince Latinos that their votes mattered – not just registering people to vote and door-knocking.
If these are among the lessons that Democrats take from the 2020 elections, it is much less likely that Latinos will become the key growth demographic for Republicans in presidential politics. And solidifying Latino support will be less challenging for down-ballot Democratic candidates in swing districts.
The time for course corrections is now.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.