But Biden can’t resolve his problems simply with get-out-the-vote efforts and PSA campaigns. The most sophisticated Latino pollsters have identified several trouble spots.
In Florida, the historically conservative Cuban American cohort has lurched toward Trump in the past few years. After roughly splitting their votes between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in 2012, Florida’s Cuban Americans are breaking for Trump by about 20 points, according to a recent poll by Equis. (Biden leads non-Cuban Latinos in the state by about 30 points, according to the same poll.) “Trump is clearly doing even better among Cuban Americans than some previous Republicans,” Mark Lopez, the director of Hispanic research at Pew Research Center, told me. “Biden’s weakness in Florida has something to do with the president’s anti-socialist rhetoric” that equates left-wing Democrats with the Castro regime, which Cuban Americans moved north to escape.
Even more concerning for Democrats is that young Latino men born in the United States seem to be inching toward Trump, intrigued perhaps by the president’s business persona. No single group has posted a larger statistical bump for Trump than Latino men under the age of 50, according to Equis.
Unlike the Cuban American phenomenon, which is confined almost entirely to Florida, this appears to be a national phenomenon. In Arizona, for example, only half of Latino men under 50 say they will vote for Biden, far fewer than the nearly 70 percent of young Latina women. Among older Latinos in Arizona, there is practically no difference between male and female preferences, with Biden’s edge among women at just 3 percent.
Julio Ricardo Varela: What Biden can learn from Sanders about the young Latino vote
The gender gap among young Latino voters is “one of the most significant new developments in the Latino vote today,” Lopez said. It reflects a broader gender gap in the U.S. electorate. As late as the 1970s, there was scarcely any difference between male and female voters. But in the past four decades, women have edged toward the Democratic Party, while men moved into the GOP. In 2016, Clinton won the popular vote by several million ballots with just 41 percent of male support. As net immigration from Mexico and Central America continues to decline, third- and fourth-generation Latino men (i.e., whose grandparents or great-grandparents immigrated to the U.S.) seem to be less likely to consider themselves “Latino” or “Hispanic” and more likely to vote like white men, the GOP’s demographic sweet spot.
There is no such thing as a singular Latino electorate. There are only Latino electorates, which vary by state, gender, generation, economic status, and their family’s nation of origin. The challenge for Biden and future Democrats is to find a message that cuts across identities. The right approach in this election is to focus on the intersection of health and economics—and, in particular, on work. Today, Latinos are more likely than the average American to work in low-wage service jobs that expose them to health risks in a pandemic. But this sort of deprivation is not unique to any ethnic group; it is endemic to the service economy and the working class, and its solutions will require working-class policies, such as universal health care and stronger labor protections. To counter Trump’s advantage among Cuban Americans and men, and to maximize turnout among Latino voters predisposed to vote Democratic, Biden needs to do more than unfurl his multi-page résumé. He needs to get specific with Latino voters on pocketbook issues and explain how their lives would improve with him in the White House. That is, he needs to explain how they, too, would win with a Biden victory.