Mainstream Media Has Missed the Real Story About Latinx Voter Turnout
About 160 million voters cast ballots in this election, setting a new record, and President-elect Joe Biden’s lead in the popular vote has jumped to over 5 million. Much of the increased turnout was powered by people of color, while the total number of votes cast by white Americans barely increased from the last presidential election. “The main story is that in an election which saw historic turnout, people of color — and especially Latinos — had an unprecedented increase in voting,” says Democracy Now! co-host Juan González. “After decades of political experts talking about the growing Latino vote, this year it actually happened.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: President-elect Joe Biden’s lead in the popular vote has jumped to over 5 million as President Trump continues to refuse to concede. About 160 million voters cast ballots. This is a new record. Much of the increased turnout was powered by people of color, while the total number of votes cast by white Americans barely increased from the last presidential election. Well, Juan, your analysis has been absolutely critical. That’s right, Democracy Now!’s Juan González has been closely looking at how the historic turnout in the Latinx community has impacted the race. Lay it out for us.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Amy, the cascade of stories continues, claiming a surprising turn by Latino voters toward Donald Trump. The New York Times this week, front page, quote, “How Democrats Missed Trump’s Appeal to Latino Voters.” Then, the L.A. Times, “Latino voters tired of being taken for granted by baffled Democrats.” CNN and others claiming there’s no such thing as a Latino bloc. And even The Intercept saying in one of their stories that “Nonwhite Voters Are Not Immune to Right-Wing Populism.”
Well, I said last week, and I’ll repeat it again, the key narrative of this election is not whether there was a small shift in the percentage of Latinx voters in some areas of the country turning toward Trump. The main story is that in an election which saw historic turnout, people of color — and especially Latinos — had an unprecedented increase in voting. And they, not white voters, represented the bulk of that increase. Virtually none of the reports have mentioned this, that for the first time in U.S. history Latinos’ turnout appears to have reached comparable levels to the rates for white and Black Americans. Twenty-point-six million Latinos went to the polls in this election. That’s 64% of the 32 million eligible Latinx voters, while in previous election cycles the turnout had been routinely below 50%. In raw numbers, 8 million more Latinos voted this year than in 2016. That’s a 63% increase over the last presidential elections.
Now, I’ve updated and tweaked the chart from last week, and it shows that the biggest increase in both percentages and actual votes from four years ago came from Latino voters. Their jump in number of ballots cast nearly equaled that among white — the increase among white and Black voters combined. The next biggest jump, in percentage term, came among African American voters, who increased by 20%, Asian Americans by 16%, while white voters increased by just under 6%.
Now, some of these numbers, I should note, are different from what I displayed last week, in part because there’s been some little-noticed changes to the Edison national exit poll in the past few days compared to what was released on Election Day by all the networks. For instance, the original version estimated that whites were 65% of the electorate, while the latest figures say that they were 67%. And the poll also increases turnout for African Americans and Asians. Well, the Edison poll has always been flawed, and numerous analyses have shown its past samples were skewed to oversampling Cuban Americans, undersampling both Black and Latino inner-city polling sites, and also undersampling voters whose primary language is not English, all of which means it tends to undercount Latino voters for Democrats.
But the basic contours of the sampling remains the same, and it’s inescapable. After decades of political experts talking about the growing Latino vote, this year it actually happened. Hispanic voters felt compelled like never before to go to the polls, because COVID-19 fell them more than other groups, because of the constant demonization of Latinos by the president, because of the barbaric family separation policies, or because of the threats to healthcare, even, for some conservative Latinos, because of their hopes of finally turning back Roe v. Wade. One thing is sure: Neither the Democratic nor Republican parties will underestimate or ignore Latino voters from now on. This should be cause for widespread celebration as a long-awaited democratization of the vote.
But what about those who claim that Trump made major, unexpected inroads among Latino voters nationwide, as reflected by 66-to-32% split of the Latino vote between Biden and Trump? Some say that Latinos could be deserting the Democratic Party. Those of us who’ve been around the block a few times have heard this narrative before. In reality, these results are in the general ballpark of previous presidential campaigns.
I want to put up, hopefully, a chart here of how Latinos split their vote over the last 30 years in presidential elections. The Republican share of voters has varied, from a low of 27%, when Mitt Romney ran against Barack Obama in 2012, to a high of 44%, that George Bush got in his second presidential run in 2004. Even John McCain, when he ran against Obama in 2008, got a similar percentage of the Latino vote as Trump did this year. And the high point, the Bush victory in 2004, we should note, is the last time a Republican candidate got a majority of the popular vote.
But the big difference now is that the Latinx vote is so much larger. When you get two-thirds of a vote, that has tripled in size in just a few years, you begin to achieve critical mass. No wonder Lindsey Graham is warning that if these elections aren’t changed somehow, Republicans will never win the White House again.
What about those places like the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and South Florida, where Trump made real inroads in largely Latino districts in the actual vote? What about those pundits who claim Latinos are so diverse and diffuse as a population that it is erroneous to consider them a single community? First, on South [Florida] and the Rio Grande Valley, yes, actual vote results show that Trump had significant increases in his support there. Florida is not surprising, given the influx of conservative refugees from Nicaragua and Venezuela in recent years, but the Rio Grande Valley is.
In Hidalgo County, along the border, which is 90% Latino, Trump went from 27% against Hillary Clinton to 40% against Joe Biden. In Maverick County, which is 95% Latino, he went from 20% against Clinton to 45% against Biden. Those are significant numbers. The Valley, however, has changed rapidly during the Trump era. Always a socially conservative rural area, it has seen enormous job growth in recent years as a result of the militarization of the border, which brought thousands of new jobs to the area for Border Patrol officers, for workers on private construction of the wall with Mexico, for immigration detention centers. In addition, the Valley has replaced the San Diego sector as the epicenter of undocumented migrant crossings and the failed immigration system of the United States. All of that, no doubt, helped turn its residents for Trump.
But in the big cities of Texas, where most Latinos live, there’s another story. San Antonio’s Bexar County, for example, 60% Latino, saw Biden’s margin of votes climb, from 54 to 58%, though we’ll need better figures on how much of that was in the Latino community. It seems clear, however, that Latino turnout in states like Nevada, Arizona and Pennsylvania helped Biden win those key battleground states.
And then there’s California and New York. The Latino share of the vote that went to Biden appears to be breathtaking in those states: 77% in California, 72% in New York. Now, some argue that those are reliable blue states anyway, so those Hispanic voters are not really critical. Really? Aren’t those enormous Latino margins year after year what has made those states reliably blue? And the same for New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and, lately, Colorado.
Then there are these nonsensical questions as to whether a Latino community actually exists. Let’s be clear: Latinx identity in the United States is a social construct, created both by the dominant society, that needed to define and categorize and other — other — and by the marginalized group itself, organically, from the ground, by disparate Latin American migrant groups who were forced to unite in order to survive in a hostile society and whose children gradually intermarried to create a new social construct: the Latino in America.
More than 20 years ago, I said in my book Harvest of Empire that Latinos had become — were becoming a new third force in American politics. They largely vote Democratic, but a significant portion is susceptible to Republican candidates if those political leaders address even a few of their concerns. Since then, Latin Americans from educated and middle-class backgrounds have migrated to this country in growing numbers, and a good portion have adopted typical American conservative views. Some of that community, though still a minority, have been drawn to right-wing populism, to national chauvinism, and even to racist views.
All of this fixation on Latinos, however, ignores the fundamental question of this election, which very few political observers I’ve seen have dared to tackle: Why the heck did 58% of white Americans vote for Donald Trump, including 55% of white women? With the United States consolidating itself as the world’s most powerful imperialist nation and the economic gap in the country widening, right-wing movements have only grown at home, and the defeat of Trump will not halt their growth. The key to building a progressive majority is to keep mobilizing more young Latinos to vote, burying the small percentage increases in support for right-wing candidates under an avalanche from people of color, organized labor and their allies. And that’s my take on this election.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Juan González, a just amazing deep dive into the numbers, so critical to understand this at this point, because, so early on, this is what shapes the narrative. And, you know, on Tuesday, the leading journalist Maria Hinojosa tweeted, quote, “I’m listening to The Daily on what went wrong w the polls.” She’s referring to The New York Times’ Daily podcast. “And,” she goes on, “just wow. With the issue that more white folks voted for trump right in front of us, the FIRST thing they do is talk abt Latino voters. It sounds like WE ARE THE ONES RESPONSIBLE for all of this! Two white guys on us.” Maria Hinojosa continued, “So Nate Cohen says 'the polls struggled w Latino voters.'” And she says, “The polls? How abt hiring the right Latino pollsters?? Of course we exist. This is so typical. It’s never WE GOT IT WRONG. This time and four years ago-wrong. How abt 'We did not do our jobs.'” If you can talk about that, getting it wrong, Juan? You’re not only diving deep into the numbers, but you’re deconstructing the narrative that’s already coming out of this election.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah. Well, as I mentioned, the poll — there’s one main poll. Of course, AP now has their own poll, but the numbers are pretty similar. But these pollsters have always had flaws, as the group Latino Decisions pointed out last time, because, remember, in 2016, the same narrative, that Latinos had moved unexpectedly toward Trump, was put out. People forget that. Four years ago, it was the same narrative. But when Latino Decisions did their analysis — and they had a much more extensive polling of the Latino community, plus they looked at the actual numbers — it came much later. It came months later after the election. And they showed that it was impossible, in some areas, in several areas of the country, for the Latino vote for Donald Trump to have been as high as the exit poll, the Edison exit poll, was claiming.
And they clearly pointed out to what were the failings of the poll. One is that it has historically oversampled the Cuban American community in the overall Latino numbers. Two is that it does not — it has not really gone into overwhelmingly African American or Latino communities — it tends to do its polling on the day of Election Day in communities that are more racially mixed — and also that it historically underrepresents those people who don’t speak English. As a result, the poll is, by its construction, skewed. And so, Latino Decisions saw significant differences between the exit poll and the actual Latino vote.
Now, we don’t have the full numbers yet. There are places like New York and California where they’re still counting. There are millions and millions of votes, especially in the blue states, that have not yet been counted. So, this 5 million gap that Biden has is only going to grow. It’s not going to get smaller; it’s going to keep growing. And my estimate is it could possibly reach like 8 million, the difference in the vote. But so, I think that we’re not going to get a full picture until we do the combination of the polling and the actual vote counts, precinct by precinct, around the country, to get a better sense of what has happened. So, it’s going to take some time.
And mark my word: Six months from now or a year from now, when we have better data, we’re going to have to reassess what’s happened, but I’m willing to go on what we have already, what we have already, to say that the key story here is not small shifts in percentages, it’s raw increase in turnout. That is the key. That is the key. And once you look at the raw increase in turnout, you see that it is Latinx voters, African Americans, Asian Americans that are propelling the change in the electorate in the country.
AMY GOODMAN: And in the coming days, we’ll also be looking further into the Native American vote. I want to encourage people to go back to democracynow.org to see Juan González’s original analysis last week in Part 1 of his analysis of the voters of this country.
Next up, we’re going to look at the election results in Puerto Rico. And then we’ll look at the oral arguments before the Supreme Court on the Affordable Care Act. Is the conservative body going to vote to preserve it? Stay with us.
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Juan D. González (Richard D. Heffner Professor of Communications and Public Policy and Professor of Professional Practice, Journalism and Media Studies) is an award-winning broadcast journalist and investigative reporter. A two-time winner of the George Polk Award, he is co-host of Democracy Now!, author of "Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America," and a founder of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. He spent 29 years as a columnist for the New York Daily News.
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