President Donald Trump is making his case for Hispanic votes in Arizona and Nevada this week. Meanwhile, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is making his first general election appearance in Florida on Tuesday, with an event to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month.
The moves by both campaigns are an acknowledgment of the importance of the Hispanic vote, and they come as Trump is doing better with Hispanics than he did four years ago.
That improvement is helping Trump stay competitive in places he might not otherwise be.
Back in 2016, Hillary Clinton easily took Hispanic voters. She was ahead with them by 37 points in an average of the final pre-election polls.
Biden is winning Hispanics right now, but just by 28 points in an average of live interview polls taken over the last few months. Because I’ve averaged nearly 20 polls, we can feel confident that this shift in the Hispanic vote is real. Moreover, it’s quite consistent with an earlier June analysis I conducted that had Biden winning Hispanics by less than 30 points.
Perhaps not surprisingly, 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. Specifically, Biden has been up by at least five points over the last two months in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Indeed, Biden can struggle with Hispanic voters and still win the election. It’s, in fact, something he’s doing right now. Biden is up by seven points nationally and has at least a trivial advantage in the six closest states Trump won four years ago: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Biden is able to do so because he has countered his relative weakness with Hispanic voters by doing extremely well with White voters. Biden has cut Clinton’s deficit among White voters in the pre-election polls from about 13 points in 2016 to a scant four points now.
The result is a Biden lead nationally and in the swing states 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.
That said, Biden’s troubles with Hispanic voters make his job more difficult. Hispanic voters make up at least 15% of the electorate in Arizona, Florida and Nevada. The same holds true in Texas where Biden’s campaign wants to be competitive.
Florida, especially, is where Biden would love to win. Florida has 29 electoral votes — the most of any state that flipped from Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016.
If Biden were to emerge victorious in the Sunshine State, Trump’s electoral map possibilities would basically be cut off.
Yet, an average of recent polls has Biden up by a little under 3 points. That’s a swing of four points to Biden from Clinton’s one-point loss four years ago. He’s been getting swings above five points in the Great Lake (or Rust Belt) battlegrounds of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Part of Biden’s issue no doubt is Trump’s efforts to win over Hispanic voters in Florida. He’s long been invested in the idea of winning over Hispanic Floridians, and it seems to be paying off.
An average of live interview non-partisan Florida polls taken since the summer gives Biden just a six-point lead with Hispanics. That’s down considerably from the 21-point advantage Clinton had with them in the final pre-election polls in 2016.
You’ll notice that the Biden drop off in Florida seems to be a little bit wider than nationwide. That could be a sample size issue (i.e. we have fewer Florida polls than nationally), but it could also be because of the nature of the Hispanic vote in Florida.
Cuban Americans make up around a third of Hispanic voters in Florida. They’re far more Republican leaning than Hispanics as a whole nationally, and there is some evidence to suggest they’ve moved more to the right this election compared to other Hispanics.
If you don’t believe this group can make the difference, you needn’t look too far for a reminder of their voting power. In 2018, now Sen. Rick Scott won by a mere 10,000 votes (out of over 8 million) thanks to cutting Trump’s 29-point deficit to 21 points in heavily Cuban Miami-Dade county. Scott easily carried the Cuban American vote.
Biden’s relative weakness with Hispanic voters isn’t likely to be the same game changer in Arizona, Nevada and Texas. It’s not that Hispanic voters aren’t as crucial in the states. It’s that it’s less clear they’ll make as big of a difference on the election outcome. Regardless of any Hispanic issues, Biden’s doing nearly 10 points better than Clinton in Arizona and Texas. Additionally, Nevada’s six electoral votes makes only a difference in a few select scenarios.
Still, the Hispanic polling results have to be disappointing for Democrats. Democrats may have hoped their rapidly diversifying party and move to the left on immigration over the last decade would help them expand their advantage with Hispanics. This polling suggests that has not, for whatever reason, occurred.
Democrats should hope that the history of Hispanic voters breaking late benefits them in 2020. Nate Cohn of The New York Times noted that Hispanics were far more likely to be undecided late into the 2018 campaign. A quick look at CNN polls taken this summer shows that on average twice as many Hispanics (10%) said they were not currently planning on voting for Biden or Trump than voters overall (5%). That’s a statistically significant difference.
Whether or not Biden can pick up late support from Hispanics is unclear.