A slew of polling in the last week has indicated Joe Biden has a real problem with Latino voters in Florida. These polls came as a shock to many political observers but as my Twitter feed indicates (if you go back a bit), I had detected the softness of Biden’s support among Latino’s before any of these recent polls triggered a five alarm fire.
(FYI- I stopped updating my Twitter feed on September 4th, after a real nasty back/forth with former Bernie Sanders supporters who called me out for my audacity for actually representing Joe Biden’s Senate record truthfully, rather than the narrative they have created out of thin air, of some sort of DLC-oriented neoconservative. The left has pushed this dangerous and flat out wrong narrative about Biden for 18 months. This was just the latest in a long line of similar, uncivil discussions, I have had with the left since Biden’s nomination was inevitable in March – I will return to Twitter offering commentary and whatever else at some point in the near future, but for now my focus is to get Joe Biden elected and save western democracy, not to have daily pointless, morale-sapping arguments with “aggressive progressive” keyboard vigilantes who do not know what they are talking about and have decided for whatever reason that Biden is as bad or worse than President Trump.)
Biden’s soft support among Florida Latino’s has been obvious for weeks if not months to those paying attention and talking to people in the three counties of southeast Florida.
The polls from Quinnipiac University, Bendixin & Amandi and NBC News/Marist University confirmed my hunch based on extensive anecdotal evidence that Joe Biden was struggling among Florida Latinos. Each poll showed basically a dead-heat or slight Trump lead among Florida’s Hispanics, a situation akin to 2004, when George W. Bush beat John Kerry by 5 points overall in the Sunshine State, thanks to a strong showing among Florida’s Latinos, including Puerto Ricans.
2020 isn’t 2004 obviously, and by all indications Biden is doing better than Kerry did among white voters outside southeast Florida, and more importantly much better than Hillary Clinton did just four years ago. However, the weakness among Hispanics makes it more difficult for Biden to win Florida than was anticipated a few months ago.
What are the reasons for Biden’s Latino struggles in Florida? I outline them, from my perspective below:
1- Understanding the diversity of the Latino Community – This is not Texas or California, nor Cuban v Non-Cuban
It goes without saying the Latino community in Florida is not monolithic. But it’s also important to stop with the lazy “Cuban-Americans” v “Non-Cuban Hispanics” vernacular so many members of the media and Democrats employ. All too often these stereotypes are created by Latinos from outside Florida who are employed by Democratic campaigns. The Hispanic community in Florida is VERY different than that of Texas and California and it is not just because they are fewer Mexican-Americans here.
Divisions within the Latino community are a heck of a lot more complex than that simple thinking. And while Biden is struggling with Cuban-Americans (currently he’s running per the public polling data about ten points behind Hillary Clinton’s number with this group in 2016 and more than 15 points behind President Obama’s 2012 number among Cuban-Americans), his weakness relative to recent Democratic nominees extends to almost every subgroup of Latino’s in the state.
Venezuelan-Americans have seen an increase in political & voting power since 2016. Among them, Biden is getting beat roughly 2-1. Similarly, Nicaraguan-Americans are turning against the Democratic nominee and polling has even indicates some leakage among Peruvian and Colombian-Americans, groups that generally lean left.
Another factor is the numbers of Latinos in Florida who have assimilated into more conservative, largely white suburban and exurban neighborhoods. The culture and political attitudes they carry are often influenced by these moves and the neighborhoods around them. This is not that different than the experience of previous immigrant groups that came the USA in the early 1900’s and eventually assimilated wholly into “white” America.
So much of understanding the Latino vote directly corresponds to foreign affairs and getting a handle on where Latino’s emigrated from and whether they fled left-wing or right-wing governments. To large extent this is true with all immigrant communities, something Democrats need to be aware of in a longer-term sense.
2- Biden the traditional liberal
Unlike Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, Joe Biden has a long Senate record to pick apart – from my world view it is a positive, but for that of right-wing Latinos and those easily influenced by campaign propaganda, it is not.
Biden voted against propping up the ailing, corrupt South Vietnamese government in the 1970’s, was a leading Senate opponent of Apartheid South Africa in the 1980’s, opposed Contra Aid and SDI funding in that same decade and voted against the Gulf War in 1991. In the 1990’s, Biden routinely sparred with Jesse Helms publicly in the Senate – a sign that Biden was the leader of the responsible liberal wing of the body when it came to foreign affairs.
Keep in mind Nelson Mandela was so closely associated with leftist causes as was the anti-Apartheid movement in general that he was snubbed in Miami after being freed from prison. Right-wing fascism has always appealed to a segment of Miami’s Hispanics, even among non-Cubans. For this group, Biden represents a grave threat to their world view, which adores figures like Jair Bolsonaro.
Many of Biden’s old votes have been drudged up recently for consumption among more right-wing leaning Hispanics in Dade and Broward counties, and even among some Haitian-Americans. It was easy for Hillary Clinton who never actually served in the Senate during the Cold War to play Cold Warrior – it’s much more difficult for Biden to do so given his liberal ideology.
For those of us who consider ourselves progressive, we can be proud of Biden’s record – a truly exceptional one for a Senator from Delaware who very easily could have been a Scoop Jackson-esque Cold Warrior. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help him with some voters he needs to win over. The great irony of this being that some progressive loudmouths still think Biden is a neoconservative…
3- Republican Latino Outreach
Simply put, the GOP has done a MUCH better job of reaching out to Latino voters in this state since 2016. To the credit of Rick Scott and other leaders in the RPOF, they realized they had a demographic problem in this state if they didn’t reverse the growing trend of younger Latino voters favoring the Democrats by wide margins. The Democrats did well between 2010 and 2016 to activate this growing segment of the electorate but the last few years have seen sharp reversals and a more serious Republican approach.
The GOP has successfully created a messaging campaign, in the last 3 years or so that is helping to reshape the party’s image among not only immigrant communities, but English-language dominant Hispanics in Florida. It is no coincidence both Scott and Governor Ron DeSantis cut into Latino support for their Democratic opponents in 2018. That wasn’t one-cycle, short-term event, but part of a larger, longer-term effort by the GOP. It’s working.
4- Some Democrats radical secularism
Joe Biden is a devout Catholic and this should appeal to religious Hispanics. But the Democratic left’s adoption of radical secularism and outward disdain for religion has made it more difficult than ever to win votes from people of faith. Florida’s Latinos are largely Catholic and many are very religious.
I am a secular person but also recognize that pushing anti-religious themes is as dangerous as forcing religion on individuals in a free, pluralistic society. Too many people on the left, especially young people don’t quite grasp yet the political ramifications of being outwardly disdainful of religion.
Biden’s election and therefore the fate of the western world hinge on Catholic votes, both among Latinos in Florida and white Catholics in the Upper Midwest. Let’s hope he is able to overcome the mess his party has created on these issues and win the trust of people he understands far better than the current occupant of the White House.
5- Socialism as a theme
This one speaks for itself. Republican propaganda and race-baiting is working on this particular theme.
What’s ironic about this is Trump’s ideology actually resembles that of socialists from Latin America, in that he has mixed nationalist and ethnocentric themes with excessive government spending, increased market intervention and direct subsidies for parts of the country which support him. Trump is poison, and his use of the term socialism is part-sinister racism (as the term has been commonly associated with Jews and Blacks in the US) and part projection. But aren’t most things Trump does either cynically racist or projection? This is no different.
6- Lack of experience with Democracy/Numbness to Authoritarianism
This is a common problem among the fringes of Florida’s Hispanics. A lack of experience with democracy is two fold – on one hand voter protection and advocacy for free and fair elections sometimes doesn’t appeal to them it as it should, and secondly coming from cultures where election fraud is rampant and dictatorships are common, Trump is less scary than he should be. Strongmen of both the left & right have had a dominant presence in the politics of Latin America and the Caribbean. So for many Latinos, even some of those on the left, Trump’s flaunting of established norms and disrespect for western democracy as well as his reverence for dictators and illiberal forces abroad, have less impact than with the electorate as a whole.
7- Progressive half-truths about Biden
I could write all day on this, but some younger Latino’s seem less inclined to support Biden because of the 18 month campaign of Sanders-supporters turned third party advocates on the left. These narratives take votes out of context, ignore historical perspectives, timing of issues or generally anything that would add balance and nuance to the discussions. I don’t think the progressives have that much support in Florida as a whole, but in a close election the mad ramblings of irresponsible narcissists on the left could be very costly indeed.