The sleeping giant awakens: Latinos in the 2020 election

2020 has been a year for the record books and the presidential election is no exception. During this electoral cycle, we saw states, once considered reliably red, like Arizona, Florida, Texas, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, become battleground states. It is no coincidence that these states have experienced record Latino population growth (roughly half of all U.S. population growth between 2010 and 2019). Latino population increases resulted in a subsequent growth of eligible Latino voters in Arizona (+8%), Nevada (+10%), Florida (+9%), and Texas (+8%). In Florida, Latino voters accounted for a record setting 17% of registered votersSimultaneous electoral eligibility declines among non-Hispanic whites magnified the electoral outcomes of the Latino population surge. Non-Latino whites in battleground states saw eligibility fall dramatically: Arizona (-12%), Nevada (-18%), Florida (-13%), Texas (-12%). On balance, this means that the Latino vote was pivotal in the statewide partisan shifts of 2020.

Turnout and engagement

Despite their population surge, Latinos have long been accused of “punching below their weight” when it comes to voter turnout. At the time of going to press, final turnout tallies had yet to be released, but NALEO estimates that Latino turnout would increase by 15% compared to 2016. If these estimates are correct, such an increase could put historically lackluster Latino turnout rates, usually hovering just shy of 50% since 2008, up around 63%. Higher than normal voter enthusiasm among Latinos voters hint at abnormally high turnout rates, as well. Latino Decision/NALEO tracking poll suggests that 70% of Latino registered voters consider their 2020 ballot to be more important than 2016. Among Latino registered voters, 48% of survey respondents reported that they had already cast their ballot as of November 2nd. 41% of those remaining said that they were “almost certain to vote.” A majority of Latino early voters (54%) cast absentee ballots through the U.S. postal citing strong trust in the system.

Vote choice and issues

In 2020, Latinos voted overwhelmingly in support of democrat Joe Biden at 70%. Far from a monolithic voting bloc, 27% of Latinos voted for Donald Trump. Latino support for Trump increased by 9% over 2016. This may have resulted from the Trump campaign’s pivot away from immigration policy to pandemic related issues. Moreover, Latinos in 2020 were less likely to say that President Trump was “hostile” to Latinos (26%) and more likely to say that he simply “didn’t care” about Latinos (47%) than in 2016. In 2016, these numbers were 55% and 29%, respectively.

A comparison with non-Latino whites provides strong evidence of a widening racial and ethnic political divide in U.S. politics. The Latino Decisions Election Eve Poll showed a majority of non-Latino whites (56%) voted for Trump. Only 41% supported Joe Biden. There is question as to whether Latino support for Democratic candidates has increased as part of a larger shift towards the democratic party or if it is reflective of unfavorable Republican candidates.

Favorability ratings for Joe Biden (70% favorable) among Latinos were higher than for other democratic contemporaries. For example, among Latinos, Nancy Pelosi received a 54% favorability rating. Two important points emerge from this comparison. First, democratic party identification does not ensure a sky-high favorability rating among Latinos. Second, Latinos genuinely seem to like Joe Biden as a favorable choice for president.

Election 2020 & COVID-19

The election of 2020 has been widely discussed as a referendum on President Trump’s COVID-19 response and Latino political behavior supports this perception. Latino survey results reveal that 70% of Latino respondents disapproved of President Trump’s handling of the pandemic, the same percentage reporting a vote for Joe Biden. A look at the impact of COVID-19 by race and ethnicity help explain their feelings of disapproval. According to the CDC, Latinos are 2.2 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than non-Hispanic whites, 4.6 times more likely to be hospitalized and 1.1 times more likely to die as a result of COVID-19. Latinos are also shown in tracking polls to be most likely to experience a COVID-19 related job loss than non-Latino whites by 9% or or experience a reduction in hours or pay due to COVID-19 by 14%. In light of these statistics, the top election issues for Latinos are not surprising: (1) Covid-19 response, (2) health care costs, and (3) Improving wages and job creation. This is sharp shift from 2016 when the top issue for Latinos were: Immigration, the economy and education.

In sum, Latinos proved decisive in election 2020. The growth in the Latino voting population turned strongholds into battlegrounds. Their enthusiasm for voting may have finally “awoken” the proverbial sleeping giant that has effectively lain dormant for decades. The question now becomes: will the giant stay awake in coming elections?