The last election’s most unexpected twist is framing one of the most urgent questions confronting both parties today: What explains Donald Trump’s improved performance among Latino voters?
The president who began his first national campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists,” drug smugglers, and criminals; who labored to build a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border; who separated undocumented children from their parents; who sought in court to end the “Dreamers” program; who maneuvered to reduce virtually every form of legal immigration; and who told Democratic women of color in the House of Representatives to “go back” to where they came from—that president won a higher share of Latino voters in 2020 than he did four years earlier, according to every major exit poll and precinct-level analysis of last year’s results.
Still, election observers and Latino-vote experts disagree about what, exactly, those results mean—in particular whether they represent a reversion to Latinos’ traditional level of support for Republicans, or whether they’re the beginning of a lasting GOP improvement that could reshape the electoral landscape in 2022 and 2024. “That’s the big question everybody is trying to answer right now, and I don’t know that we have a definitive answer,” the Democratic pollster Stephanie Valencia, the co-founder and president of EquisLabs, told me.
Trump’s gains were most dramatic in two places: South Florida, with its large population of Latinos from Cuba and Central and South America; and South Texas, where Trump posted head-turning improvement in rural and small-town communities throughout the Rio Grande Valley that are mostly Mexican American. But all the principal data sources on the 2020 results also showed Trump advancing with Latinos across a wide range of states. “There was this baseline shift all across the country,” Valencia said. “It did not just happen in Texas and Florida.” [Continue reading…]