The Latino vote and the election.

"All paths to 270 lead through the Latino electorate."
Isaac Saul Sep 23, 2020
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free, subscribe for Friday editions and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 12 minutes.

How the Latino vote could alter the election. Plus, a question about why Democrats are the party of gun control.

Supporters of President of the United States Donald Trump at a "Keep America Great" rally at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Reader feedback.

Last week, I wrote a Tangle edition comparing the “radical left” to the “radical right.” Ari from Pittsburgh, who lost a family member in the 2018 synagogue shooting, said “to believe conspiracy theories and to hold extremist political views, regardless of which extreme, is to enter a dangerous positive feedback cycle that pushes a person further away from reality.”

“However,” he added, “alt-right extremism is far more dangerous than any other American extremist camp and it should be treated as such. Two big differentiators of the alt-right are that their extremists are encouraged to more frequent action by a president that courts them by speaking in innuendo and failing to strongly condemn them, and that these actions frequently involve body counts.

“The already apparent danger and ubiquity of the alt-right worldview, when combined with the left's response to its offensiveness by deplatforming and shunning its views, begets cesspools like Gab or 4Chan that accelerate the positive feedback cycle by insulating reality from a radicalizing person to the point where an otherwise stable individual will act out of a self-righteous certainty. And this is happening with alarming frequency and consistency. Whether those actions be mass shootings (plural) or mass Covid-denying (rampant), the actions of the radical right are more than theoretical dangers--they have already killed innocent Americans; and they continue to do so at a scale and within a shared ideology that is simply incomparable to anything in any other American political outlook.”


Quick hits.

  1. Fox News’s Chris Wallace, who is moderating the first presidential debate on September 29th, announced the topics he will cover: The Trump and Biden records, the Supreme Court vacancy, COVID-19, the economy, race and violence in American cities and the integrity of the election.
  2. Cindy McCain, the widow of former Republican Sen. John McCain, said she is endorsing Joe Biden for president. “My husband John lived by a code: country first. We are Republicans, yes, but Americans foremost. There's only one candidate in this race who stands up for our values as a nation, and that is Joe Biden.” President Trump responded on Twitter: “I hardly know Cindy McCain other than having put her on a Committee at her husband’s request. Joe Biden was John McCain’s lapdog. So many BAD decisions on Endless Wars & the V.A., which I brought from a horror show to HIGH APPROVAL. Never a fan of John. Cindy can have Sleepy Joe!”
  3. Billionaire Democratic donor Mike Bloomberg said he raised $16 million to pay off the fines for 32,000 felons in Florida so they can vote. Florida voters passed an amendment to allow felons who had served their time in prison to vote, but Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis undercut the amendment by signing legislation that required them to pay off all of their fines before being allowed to vote. There are over one million felons in the state.
  4. The House approved a short-term spending measure to keep the federal government open through December 11th. The bipartisan bill includes $8 billion in nutrition assistance for families pushed for by Democrats and tens of billions of dollars in trade relief payments to farmers. The bill is expected to pass the Senate this month.
  5. Johnson & Johnson announced Phase 3 trials of a coronavirus vaccine. The trial will include 60,000 participants, the largest of any current Phase 3 coronavirus trial on the planet, and the vaccine has considerable advantages — including that it only needs one dose and does not need to be stored in subzero temperatures.

What D.C. is talking about.

The Latino vote. In the last week, Latino voters across America became the focus of both Donald Trump’s and Joe Biden’s campaign. Some brief definitions, since it’s important and most of the news is bad at this: Latino describes anyone of Latin American origin or descent, typically someone who lives in the United States (obviously that’s who we’re talking about here). Hispanic generally means someone from Spanish speaking Latin America or people of Spanish speaking descent. Because women of Latin American descent often describe themselves as Latinas, some people use the term Latinx as a gender-neutral or nonbinary way to refer to a person of Latin American descent. But given that 98% of Latinos don’t identify with that label I won’t be using it here.

A recent Latino Decisions poll found that 65% of Latinos plan to vote for Joe Biden or are leaning toward him. In 2016, 79% of Latino voters said they supported Hillary Clinton. That, and a slew of other data, have begun to alarm Biden officials that he may be underperforming with this crucial voting bloc — which is part of the reason he took off to Florida last week to campaign on the ground there.

Traditionally speaking, Latino voters tend to vote with Democrats, and that trend has only become starker in recent years. But in 2016, 1 in 5 Latino voters supported Trump.  Especially key to this equation is that Latino voters — just like Black voters or non-college educated voters or Evangelical voters or any other voting bloc that gets outsized focus — are not a monolith. In fact, compared to those other voting groups, they are perhaps one of the least predictable voting blocs in the country.

Part of that is because how Latino voters cast their ballots seems heavily influenced by where they are. In Florida, which will be the predominant focus in this edition because of its importance in the election, Latino voters are more likely to vote with Republicans than in other states. The Latino population there is heavily populated with Cuban Americans, who make up 29% of the state’s Latino voting bloc. Many Cubans are in Florida because they fled Cuba when Fidel Castro’s communist regime came to power in 1959, and those Cubans often embraced the Republican party because it was (and still is) taking a harder line on Communism globally.

In 2016, according to FiveThirtyEight, Cuban Americans split the vote between Hillary and Trump, which ended the long drift toward Democrats Cubans have been making for generations. But they’re still far more likely to vote Republican than other blocs of Latino voters, and new polls seem to indicate Trump has won back many of those Cuban Americans since 2016 (one poll shows him up 54-37 amongst Cuban Americans).

On the other hand, Mexican Americans tend to heavily favor Democrats. Mexican Americans are big parts of the Latino voting blocs in Texas, Arizona and Nevada. In 2016 they broke for Clinton 81%-15% in polls, according to Latino Decisions.

There are all sorts of other factors that determine how Latino voters cast ballots: first generation immigrants are more likely to vote Democrat than third generation. Evangelical Latinos are swing voters. National identity (i.e. Cuban, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Venezuelan) has a more outsized impact on identity than simply being Latino. All of these things are at play in 2020 as Trump and Biden vie for Latino voters.

One pollster put to Politico: “All paths to 270 [Electoral College votes] lead through the Latino electorate. Whether that path includes Arizona and Florida, or the upper-Midwest states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, every single path requires reaching and engaging Latino voters.”


What the left is saying.

They’re getting a little nervous. Biden’s standing with Latino voters brings back memories of Hillary not spending enough time in Wisconsin or other oversights from 2016. Many Democrats view winning Florida as the easiest way to lock up the 2020 election. If Trump wins Florida, he wins the election in 57% of FiveThirtyEight’s simulations. If he loses Florida, he wins the election in less than 2% of their simulations. Others view the “Trump is winning Latino voters” narrative as too simplistic and perhaps overstated.

“Joe Biden’s Hispanic voter problem is real,” Harry Enten wrote in CNN, noting that Trump’s improvement with Hispanic voters means he could “stay competitive in places he might not otherwise be.” Still, though, Enten says “Biden's best path to the White House largely relies on winning states Trump won four years ago and where Hispanics voters make up less than 5% of the electorate… Indeed, Biden can struggle with Hispanic voters and still win the election. It's, in fact, something he's doing right now.”

He’s still winning because “White voters make up about seven times the percentage of the electorate Hispanics do nationally and at least three times (though in some cases many more times) in the closest swing states Trump won in 2016.” And while Biden may be losing ground with Latino voters he’s eating into Trump’s lead with White voters.

“We tend to look at Latino voters in Florida in a very binary way: If we’re not talking about Cubans, then we’re talking about Puerto Ricans,” Stephanie Valencia, who works for a Democratic polling firm that focuses on Latinos, said to Politico. “But only a third of the Latino electorate in Florida is actually Cuban-American — it’s very important, but it is only a third. More than one-third is actually not Cuban or Puerto Rican. They’re Mexican. They’re Colombian. They’re Peruvian. They’re Ecuadorian…

“We don’t necessarily share the same language. We don’t necessarily have a shared immigrant experience. We don’t have a shared country of origin. We are all shades of the rainbow.”

Valencia’s fear is not that these Latino voters will go for Trump in droves, it’s that they just won’t vote. “If the work has not been done to increase support among Latino voters in this last push, and white swing voters regress to the mean in any way … we are in a position where either the election is a lot closer than it should be — when there could have been greater margins — or we’ve lost the election on the margins.”

One major challenge for Biden is that he’s often tied to Obama and contrasted with Bernie Sanders, who had strong support amongst Latinos.

“At a policy level, Biden’s association with Obama put him at odds with a significant number of voters, particularly in the area of immigration,” Stephania Taladrid wrote in The New Yorker. “Many Latinos associate Obama with the deportation of more than three million undocumented people and the failure to secure comprehensive immigration reform. Early on in the campaign, Biden tried to justify Obama’s policies, quarreled with protesters, and alienated immigration rights activists with a number of gaffes. During the second Democratic debate, he suggested that undocumented immigrants should ‘get in line,’ obviating the fact that there is no clear pathway to citizenship for them.”


What the right is saying.

They are seeing lots of opportunities. To Republicans, Trump’s growing strength is especially important in Florida, a state they understand is a must-win. By focusing on “socialism” and harping on the Democratic effort to usher in bigger government, Republicans are hoping they can persuade the crucial block of Cuban American voters to join the party. That’s to say nothing of Trump’s strength amongst Hispanic men, which is growing in states like Arizona and New Mexico even as he’s underwater with Latinas.

In The Federalist, Giancarlo Sopo emphasized that there is a larger movement back to the right amongst Hispanic voters because they are beginning to recognize that the culture and politics of the Republican party are closer to home for many of them. Sopo agrees with many Republican pundits that Hispanic voters are natural Republicans “because we are hard-working, family-centric, and pro-life,” but also argues it’s about resisting the left’s “cultural edicts.”

“Instead of moving to the center, Democrats are rendering themselves culturally incompatible with Hispanics with their embrace of ‘cancel culture’ and other extreme forms of political correctness,” Sopo said. “As a 2018 study found, Hispanics were more likely than whites to note that political correctness is a problem in the country… There is no better example of the Democrats’ cultural incompetence than the insistence of liberals such as Biden and Elizabeth Warren on imposing the atrocious ‘Latinx’ ethnic label on our communities, a term that virtually no one uses and is unpronounceable in Spanish.”

In The Dispatch, Jonah Goldberg addressed the same point that Stephanie Valencia did: “Hispanics aren't a monolithic group. Cuban-Americans are very different from Mexican-Americans and Mexican-Americans are very different from Puerto Ricans,” he wrote.

“Much of the intensity around the immigration issue in recent years has stemmed from the belief that Democrats want ‘open borders’ so they can import evermore Democratic voters,” Goldberg wrote. “There are thoughtful and non-racist versions of this argument and there are dumb and very racist versions of it as well. But it's gotten to the point where it's mostly just a lazy talking point… if Hispanics voted for Trump in large numbers despite his rhetoric and despite his immigration policies (or even because of them), it would deal a mortal wound to the claim that wanting to enforce immigration laws or making our immigration system slightly more restrictive is racist.”

Henry Olsen took the narrative of “Biden’s weakness” and flipped it on its head. In The Washington Post, Olsen argued that it’s not Biden’s weakness being reflected in the polls, it’s Trump’s strength. While analysts and pundits have assumed “Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric and hard-line immigration policies” would alienate Hispanic voters — which some evidence shows it did in 2016 — “Data from 2018 also provide evidence the reigning narrative is flawed.”

Olsen notes that 33% of Hispanics approve of Trump’s performance as president, and if he gets that share on Election Day it’ll be the highest share since George W. Bush had 44% in 2004. Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush all did better with Hispanic voters than modern Republicans do.

“All three men presided over strong economies for Latino voters while also sounding nationalist themes in foreign policy,” Olsen argued. “Trump is nationalism personified, and median income among Hispanic voters had soared by nearly 29 percent since 2013, a higher gain than experienced by Whites, Blacks or Asians. With this backdrop, the punditry’s shock over Hispanic polling data is the only real surprise.”


My take.

What’s most fascinating to me about these election narratives is how often they illuminate our similarities across ethnic and racial groups, not our differences. The Latino vote conversation is a perfect example.

Take a few examples: Latina women overwhelmingly support Biden at rates far higher Latino men do, which is exactly like Black voters, White voters and Americans as a whole. Nationally (and even in Florida amongst Cuban-American voters), Trump’s weakest amongst Latinos on health care and his handling of COVID-19, just like with White voters and Black voters and Americans as a whole. Latino voters, just like White voters and Black voters and Americans as a whole, tend to be far more liberal if they’re young and less loyal to the Democratic party than liberals of an older generation. Just like young White and Black voters, and young voters overall, young Latino voters often hold liberal policy views but see the Democratic party as a failure.

The top issues for Latino voters are the same as basically everyone else: COVID-19, health care, the economy and racial relations. In one Latino Decisions poll, immigration was the “sixth most important issue Latinos wanted the next president to address,” according to FiveThirtyEight. Presumably, just like with everyone else, if this election is about COVID-19 and health care, Democrats will do well with Latino voters. If it ends up being about the economy, a Supreme Court justice, socialism, or culture wars, Trump’s odds go up.

Another interesting nugget here is that this points to a larger, underreported part of this story. So much of the 2020 narrative has been about juicing up turn out on the base. But what’s really happening — and what seems most key — is that Trump and Biden are each targeting small subsets of the other’s support. Biden has been going heavily after moderate Republicans who loathed Clinton and backed Trump in 2016. Trump is trying to eat into Biden’s support amongst African-American men. Biden is going after Trump’s older, white, moderate base. Trump is trying to eating into Biden and Democrats’ support with younger voters, particularly younger voters of color.

All of that’s on display in Florida, and involves the Latino vote. Trump is up significantly in polling averages amongst Latino voters, especially in Florida. But he’s lost some crucial support amongst older white voters, and Biden appears to be coming out ahead in the trade-off compared to Hillary.

Most importantly: there are a lot of undecideds in the Latino world. Valencia brought this up repeatedly, noting that — again, just like every other group of voters in America — the undecideds aren’t actually Trump vs. Biden, but people deciding whether to vote or not vote. Biden’s blasting Florida with Spanish language ads now, which Trump had been outspending him on. He’s also getting a boost from Mike Bloomberg, who has pledged $100 million to help Biden win the state. The last couple of months will be crucial, and the Latino vote could, in fact, swing the election. Just don’t expect that bloc to act much differently than the rest of the country.


Blindspot report.

As part of a partnership with Ground News, an app and website that uses data to rate the political lean of stories and news outlets, I’ll be featuring parts of Ground News’s “Blindspot Report” in Tangle. The Blindspot Report tells you what stories folks on the left and right miss each week because of their biased news diets.

The right missed a story about how the parents of toddlers who appeared in the “racist baby” video Trump posted on Twitter are now suing him for using the footage.

The left missed a story about how 60% of business closures due to the pandemic are now permanent.

Want to check out Ground News’s bias ratings, blindspot reports or other news sources? Click here.


Your questions, answered.

Q: Why do Democrats seem so opposed to Second Amendment rights while Republicans champion them?

— Roger, Salt Lake City, Utah

Tangle: Gun control as a Democratic-centric issue is actually a rather new phenomenon. A lot of people point to the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which was passed by Democrats, as the root of this change. The ban became a core issue to galvanize Republican support for taking back control of the House of Representatives, and it immediately got thrown into the specter of growing partisanship in American politics. Republicans claim they are “for” the Second Amendment and Democrats are “against” it, often framing the Second Amendment as the guarantee of unregulated gun ownership (which it isn’t). But that dichotomy has only really come into focus in the last decade.

Part of it is that the country has moved toward gun control. 64% of Americans believe “the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict,” according to Gallup. So it’s not just “Democrats,” but most Americans who feel this way. The shift is also happening quickly in politics at the federal level. In 2010, about 20% of all federal candidates with an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association were Democrats. In 2018, it was less than 2%. At the Democratic National Convention, the conversation became central in a way it never really had before. Democrats featured a number of gun control, mass shooting related messages at the convention, clearly making a bet their position would win over more moderates than it would scare off Second Amendment advocates.

There’s another reason, too: who is representing who. Not long ago, there were a lot of moderate Democrats representing rural areas of the U.S. where guns are popular and gun regulation is a losing political issue. Today’s moderate Democrats represent suburban areas, are closely tied to educated suburban women, and often encompass cities. All of these constituencies strongly support more gun control, and they’ve voted in politicians who agree with them or those politicians have moved on the issue to match the will of their constituency.

Of course, there’s also the culture wars. It’s no secret that a huge part of politics today is this ideal of “old guard” versus “new guard.” Trump has thrown gasoline on that fire, encouraging and standing by Americans who arm themselves against “the mob.” The idea of patriotism on the right has become deeply tied to gun ownership and self protection. The pandemic and the civil unrest happening in cities across the country has only exacerbated this. In July of 2020, the FBI conducted 3.6 million background checks for firearm sales, compared to 2 million in July of 2019.

When the armed teenager Kyle Rittenhouse shot two people during the unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, we saw it again: Trump’s base framed him as a patriotic young teenager doing the police’s job and defending the community. Last night, former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi called him a “little boy” who was trying to protect his community. Meanwhile, the left saw a kid, dropped off by his mother, who should never have been there and never had a gun in the first place. But Rittenhouse himself was a product of this culture battle. He idolized police, grew up around firearms and wanted to be a law enforcement officer.

The truth is many gun owners and conservatives support the kinds of reforms Democrats want to put into place, and many liberals have spent little or no time around guns and don’t understand the current laws (many of which we fail to enforce) we have in place to regulate them. As gun control becomes a winning political issue on the left, Republicans have dug their heels in to try to frame Democrats as “coming for your weapons” to their base — a claim that’s totally divorced from the reality that gun ownership is growing and has continued to grow at levels unlike anywhere else on the planet no matter which party is in control. As with most things, there’s more unity on gun reform than meets the eye, and the specter of it being “Democrats opposing the Second Amendment” is largely a product of partisan warfare.

Remember: You can ask a question too. It’s easy. All you have to do is reply to this email and write in — you can reach me anytime.


A story that matters.

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has ruled state officials need to throw out so-called “naked ballots,” or ballots without the required inner secrecy envelope. In the 2018 midterms, naked ballots were not thrown out during the election. Only 5% of Pennsylvanians vote by mail historically, but this year the number is expected to be exponentially higher. In one Philadelphia election in November, 6.4% of ballots were “naked” and thrown out. In 2016, Trump won Pennsylvania by just 44,000 votes, meaning the number of mail-in ballots thrown out — which are expected to be predominantly from Democrats — could be more than the margin of difference in the election. "[R]ecent actions by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court have set Pennsylvania up to be the subject of significant post-election controversy, the likes of which we have not seen since Florida in 2000," Lisa Deeley, the chair of Philadelphia's city commissioners, said in a message to state legislators.


Numbers.

  • 32%. The percentage of U.S. teens aged 13-17 who don’t affiliate with any religion.
  • 38%. The percentage of U.S. teens aged 13-17 who say it is necessary to believe in God to be moral.
  • 61%. The percentage of U.S. teens aged 13-17 who say it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral.
  • 39%. The percentage of Americans who think that climate change contributed “a lot” to recent natural disasters like the wildfires in the west.
  • 12%. The percentage of Americans who think that climate change didn’t contribute at all to recent natural disasters like the wildfires in the west.
  • 17%. The percentage of Americans who say they have experienced racism in their job.
  • 13%. The percentage of White Americans who say they have experienced racism in their job.
  • 23%. The percentage of Black Americans who say they have experienced racism in their job.
  • 31%. The percentage of Hispanic Americans who say they have experienced racism in their job.

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Have a nice day.

Lane Unhjem was driving his combine harvester on his farm in North Dakota when disaster struck: the harvester caught on fire. But that was just the beginning of Unhjem’s problems. Lost in the panic of the moment, he went into cardiac arrest, and had to be airlifted to a hospital, where he is reported to be in stable condition. Because the harvest season is a short, sensitive time period, a family friend named Jenna Binde called on neighbors to help her harvest his 1,000-acre wheat and canola farm. 60 farmers responded to the call, and they harvested the whole thing — which can take weeks — in seven hours. “It’s just kind of the farming way of life,” Binde said. “You help your neighbor out when they need it and don’t expect anything in return.”

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Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Buck County, PA — one of the most politically divisive counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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