Hispanic voters helped decide the 2020 election — and not just in Miami-Dade

As results from Election Day began to roll in, it was clear that former Vice President Joe Biden met a mixed reception from Hispanic voters in some key states where they make up a significant portion of the electorate — a result that has ignited a debate in the Democratic Party about what he could have done to better appeal to such voters, who are critical to the party’s coalition.

Hispanic voters in America — whose political leanings vary with gender, generation, country of origin, religion, and how long they have lived in the US — often defy simple explanations, and this year proved no exception.

Arizona remains close, but Hispanics, mobilized by grassroots groups that have been active in the state for years, have made the race competitive for Biden.

On the other hand, Biden drastically underperformed among Hispanic voters in Florida, who hail from all over Latin America and hold diverse political views. That seemed to confirm longtime Democratic fears about a perceived weakness in his campaign outreach to Hispanic communities, a mistake that, combined with his failure to maintain support among white voters, cost him the state.

In Texas, predominantly Hispanic border counties, previously considered Democratic strongholds, also swung dramatically toward President Trump, and, absent sufficient margins in the suburbs, Biden failed to turn the state blue.

Hispanics have also swayed the results in Nevada and Wisconsin. Here’s what we know so far about how they have voted:

Arizona

Though the race has yet to be called, Hispanics could prove pivotal in bringing home a win for Biden in Arizona, a state that the Republican candidate has carried every year but one since 1952.

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His campaign had aimed to win 70 percent of the Hispanic vote — the same percentage that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the first Democrat to win a Senate seat in Arizona in decades, won in her 2018 race. And preliminary data from the polling firm Latino Decisions suggested that the predominantly Mexican American Hispanic population had, in fact, backed him by that overwhelming proportion.

Biden is on track to flip Maricopa County, where onetime Sheriff Joe Arpaio once used his department to target Hispanics. He is ahead by 6 points with between 81 and 97 percent of the vote reported. (Hillary Clinton lost the county, which is the most populous in the state, by about 3 points.)

Hispanics could prove pivotal in bringing home a win for Biden in Arizona.
Carolyn Kaster/AP

Biden also appears to be ahead in Pima County, which encompasses Tucson and where there is a large Hispanic population, racking up bigger margins than Clinton.

It’s the product of grassroots organizing in the state’s Hispanic community for the better part of a decade, driven in part by SB 1070, which was passed by the state legislature in 2010 and was one of the “most restrictive anti-immigration bills in the country,” as my colleague Li Zhou explains. Though the most controversial parts of the law have since been invalidated by the courts, it previously allowed police to stop anyone who they believed was an unauthorized immigrant and request that they provide their papers, leading to racial profiling.

Democrats have called for replicating the grassroots efforts to engage Arizona’s Hispanic voters in other states with large Hispanic populations, including Texas.

Texas

Biden came closer to flipping Texas than any Democrat has in decades, but he still lost by 5 points to Trump. That loss was in part due to his drastic underperformance in South Texas counties along the US-Mexico border, where voters are overwhelmingly Hispanic and primarily of Mexican descent. Those counties have historically been neglected by politicians at both the state and national level, and this year was no exception: The Biden campaign waited until the final weeks before Election Day to conduct in-person outreach.

As compared to Hillary Clinton in 2016, Biden won by substantially slimmer margins in Cameron, Starr, Hidalgo, Webb, and Maverick counties, despite a significant jump in turnout. In Hidalgo County, the largest county in the Rio Grande Valley, where Hispanics make up 92 percent of the population, Biden won by 18 points with more than 219,000 people casting votes. Clinton had won the county by a whopping 40-point margin just four years ago, though only 167,000 people voted that year.

Trump also flipped Zapata County, improving his performance by 38 points since 2016, though that only represented a swing of about 1,000 votes.

Nevada

It remains to be seen whether Joe Biden has won Nevada, which would help him reach the 270 electoral votes necessary to become the next US president. Hispanics, who make up about 19 percent of eligible voters in the state and about 70 percent of whom are of Mexican heritage, could significantly influence the outcome.

Latinx supporters attend a Biden-Harris rally in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, had built a political machine in Nevada that successfully boosted turnout among Hispanics, delivering Clinton a narrow win in the state in 2016. That machine relied in part on an alliance with the largest union in the state, the Culinary Union, which represents Hispanics working on the Las Vegas Strip. But due to business closures amid the pandemic, many Culinary Union workers lost their jobs, which some Democrats feared could limit the political influence of the union.

With about 84 to 99 percent of the vote reported, Biden appears to have held the same share of the votes as Clinton in Clark County, which encompasses Las Vegas. He is also up about 4 points over Clinton’s performance in Washoe County, which is about a quarter Hispanic.

Florida

Biden carried Hispanics in Florida — but not by significant enough margins to win the state. He underperformed in South and Central Florida, including in Miami-Dade County and Osceola County, home to the city of Orlando.

Biden won Miami-Dade County by only 7 points, as compared to Clinton’s 30-point margin in 2016. It’s clear that Trump made headway among the county’s diverse Hispanic population, which accounted for 58 percent of registered voters.

Cuban Americans are the largest contingent among those voters and have historically leaned more Republican than Hispanics from other countries of origin, embittered by John F. Kennedy’s withdrawal of support for an operation against dictator Fidel Castro at Cuba’s Bay of Pigs decades ago. But the county also has significant Colombian, Haitian, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan communities.

Biden won Miami-Dade County by only 7 points, as compared to Clinton’s 30-point margin in 2016.
Eva Marie Uzcategui/AFP via Getty Images

Biden also won by 14 points in Osceola County, where Hispanics account for 48 percent of registered voters and Clinton won by 25 points in 2016. Trump had sought to appeal to Hispanic evangelicals in the county, who are primarily Puerto Rican.

Those gains for Trump — and Biden’s failure to make up for those losses in other parts of the state — were significant enough to tip Florida in the president’s favor in a tight contest.

The Trump campaign had spent months investing heavily in eroding Biden’s margins in Florida, casting him as a socialist and capitalizing on the fears of Hispanics from failed socialist regimes. (Biden has run as a center-left moderate, and even Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s brand of democratic socialism has little relationship to the regimes in Cuba and Venezuela.)

What’s more, disinformation campaigns permeated Florida Hispanics’ WhatsApp chats, Facebook feeds, and radio programs, falsely claiming, for example, that Biden has a pedophilia problem.

Wisconsin

Though Hispanics don’t make up a large proportion of the electorate in Wisconsin (roughly 7 percent), they proved essential in delivering Biden a narrow victory in the state, which has significant Mexican American, Puerto Rican, and Cuban American communities.

Hispanics appeared to sway the vote in Biden’s favor in Milwaukee and Dane counties, where he racked up massive margins of 40 and 53 points, respectively. While total turnout is still unclear, some 46,000 Hispanics cast early votes in the state, up from about 17,000 in 2016, and 57 percent of those votes were cast by women.

Local Democratic activists had sought to appeal to Hispanic voters in the state, condemning the Trump administration’s immigration policies and handling of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.