ALBANY, N.Y. — President Donald Trump appears to have won over the highest percentage of minority voters of any Republican presidential candidate since Richard Nixon in 1960.
Some 26% of President Trump’s support came from nonwhite voters, according to one exit poll. Other polls put Trump’s support among Hispanic voters at 32% to 35% — remarkable numbers, given that Trump was so widely disparaged as a uniquely bigoted president with a particular antipathy for immigrants.
Relatively strong Hispanic support for the president helps explain why, as my colleague Emilie Munson wrote, the election didn’t deliver the repudiation of Trump that Democrats wanted, even in deep-blue New York. Though absentee ballots are still being counted, Trump received at least 31,000 more votes in New York in 2020 than in 2016.
And some of Trump’s largest gains in the state, reported Jimmy Vielkind of the Wall Street Journal, came from the heavily Latino South Bronx, where the president more than doubled his support in three state Assembly districts.
The results stunned many Democrats who had assumed that Latino and Latina voters would overwhelmingly rebuke Trump and cruel policies such as the separation of families at the border. But that assumption may have been part of the problem for Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
“The Biden organization didn’t do much to court the Latino vote, and what they did was too little and too late,” said Jose Cruz, a University at Albany professor of political science who studies the relationship between ethnic identity and political mobilization. “The pattern among Democrats is to do too little and then expect Latinos to come running in a landslide of support. That’s not right.”
Cruz cautioned not to make too much of the apparent shift toward Trump. Some of it might be explained, he said, by relatively low turnout among segments of the Latino community — such as the Puerto Rican population, for example — that might have been inclined to vote for Biden. Also, exit polls can be unreliable.
Still, it’s clear that Latino voters, Cuban-Americans especially, helped Trump carry Florida. And shifts in places such as Texas’ Starr County, where 95% of voters are Hispanic, are undeniable. Hillary Clinton won Starr County with a 60-point margin four years ago; Biden won there by just five percentage points.
Clearly, many Latino and other minority voters view Trump as xenophobic and were relieved to see him lose. But in Texas and many other places, Cruz said, Latinos are religious and socially conservative, and therefore gravitate toward Republicans on issues such as abortion.
Even on border issues, he said, Latinos are much more divided than many from outside the community expect, with segments of the population strongly opposed to illegal immigration. Nobody should take Latino attitudes on immigration for granted, Cruz said.
Exit polls even found that immigration was not much of a concern for Hispanic voters. Instead, the biggest issues were COVID-19, the economy and health care, mirroring the worries of voters overall.
The widespread assumption is that the president’s cavalier approach to the coronavirus pandemic hurt Trump, perhaps costing him the election. That is likely true, but it is possible, I think, that some lower-income voters — the group most financially hurt by the pandemic — feared Biden’s more cautious approach would lead to more lockdowns and economic pain.
And Latino voters, in particular, may have been especially willing to credit Trump on the economy, given that unemployment among Hispanics fell to a record low before the pandemic.
Black unemployment also fell to historic lows — which could explain why a president frequently called a racist also gained significantly among Black voters, again according to exit polls.
The election results have some Republicans excitedly believing the GOP is emerging as a diverse bastion of the working class. “The future of the party is based on a multiethnic, multiracial, working class coalition,” Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, said to the website Axios.
For sure, a political party that finally unites working class white and nonwhite voters will transform American politics and achieve landslide victories. Yet the GOP is still a long way from being that party; despite the gains it made this year, it still lost overwhelmingly among nonwhite voters.
Still, the results prove what has long been obvious to anybody who bothered to look closely: Hispanic voters are not a monolith. They’re members of a diverse group that shouldn’t, and can’t be, put in a simplistic electoral box. Democrats shouldn’t take them for granted.
“They’re not homogenous,” Cruz said, just like “the American electorate is not homogenous.”