As votes started to pour in on Election Day, media pundits watched in shock as President Donald Trump once again defied the polls. Even though Trump still lost, he drew millions of more votes than many expected.
Left-leaning outlets such as The New York Times spent the next several days asking themselves the same question they did in 2016: “Where did our polls go so wrong?” On Tuesday’s episode of the Times’ podcast, The Daily, host Michael Barbaro and domestic correspondent Nate Cohn indulged in some self-flagellation before casting the blame elsewhere: Latino voters.
According to Cohn, Trump made “staggering gains” in areas like the Rio Grande Valley because of that region’s heavy Latino electorate. But Hispanic journalists elsewhere were quick to point out that Latinos were not the problem.
“I’m listening to The Daily on what went wrong w the polls. And just wow,” journalist Maria Hinojosa said in a tweet. “With the issue that more white folks voted for trump [sic] 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.”
I’m listening to The Daily on what went wrong w the polls. And 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 (@Maria_Hinojosa) November 10, 2020
Democracy Now! journalist Juan González echoed that sentiment on Wednesday’s broadcast.
“The main story is that in an election which saw historic turnout, people of color — and especially Latinos — had an unprecedented increase in voting,” he said. “After decades of political experts talking about the growing Latino vote, this year it actually happened.”
In Texas, Democratic President-elect Joe Biden performed well among Hispanics in urban areas, according to official precinct analysis by the University of California-Los Angeles Latino Policy & Politics Initiative. In El Paso County, Biden received more than 75% of the vote in precincts with high concentrations of Latinos.
The former vice president’s margin among Latinos was also high elsewhere. In Dallas County, as much as 78% of the vote went for Biden in heavily Latino precincts, as did 75% in Tarrant County.
???? #BREAKING Data Alert on Latino Voters in #Texas ????— UCLA LPPI (@UCLAlatino) November 7, 2020
In Dallas County, #Texas Biden got as much as 78% of the vote in precincts with high concentrations of Latinos #LatinoVote2020 #Elections2020 pic.twitter.com/BWvnCdXcIW
Matt Barreto, co-founder of political research firm Latino Decisions, said much of the mainstream media painted a damning picture of the nation’s Latino electorate. They should have instead focused on white voters.
Rather than looking at the record-high Latino voter turnout, Barreto said analysts cherry-picked certain Latin-majority districts that increased Trump's share, such as Miami-Dade County.
But Miami-Dade, which has a high Cuban American population, only makes up 3% of the nation’s diverse Latino electorate, Barreto said. That’s about as representative of Latinos as Vermont is of all American white people.
“I think that white observers are perplexed, because of Trump’s racism, why some Latinos voted for Trump,” Barreto said. “But some Latinos are Republicans … and they are going to vote for the Republican nominee. It’s as simple as that.”
Around 70% of Latinos nationwide voted for Biden, which is nearly as well as former President Barack Obama performed in 2012, Barreto said. By contrast, just 60% of Latinos voted for then-Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004.
The reports about Latinos delivering Texas for Trump were “definitely very upsetting to people,” said Valerie Martinez-Ebers, a University of North Texas political science professor who also directs its Latino and Mexican-American Studies program. In Texas, the majority of Latinos supported Biden.
“The fact of it is, is that Latinos didn’t cost Texas,” she said.
Trump did make some inroads with certain Latino subsets, such as male voters and evangelicals, but Martinez-Ebers said they weren't significant.
Latinos are not a “monolithic group,” she said, so it’s a mistake to assume they’ll always vote for Democrats. There is a big gender gap among Texas Hispanics, for instance; support for Trump increased among male Latinos, but women were overall opposed to his “machoism and cavalier attitude about the pandemic.”
Also, pollsters shouldn’t use the Rio Grande Valley as a bellwether for the rest of the state, Martinez-Ebers said. It only makes up 15% of the Latino electorate here and is a unique area.
By contrast, in Texas’ large cities, Democrats matched or exceeded former presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's share in majority Latino precincts, she said. Many exit polls were off because pollsters did not approach voters in Spanish-speaking Hispanic precincts. Instead, they frequently focused on metro areas, which aren’t representative of Latinos who live in segregated neighborhoods.
If anything, white voters delivered Trump his Texas win, Martinez-Ebers said. Perhaps pundits should direct their focus elsewhere.
As Democracy Now!’s Juan González said, fixating on Latinos ignores the fundamental question of this election: “Why the heck did 58% of white Americans vote for Donald Trump, including 55% of white women?”
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