Sep 9, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Biden's soft Hispanic support

Illustration of a Biden for President lawn sign with an e taped on to the word president

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Trump's standing with Hispanic voters is stronger now than four years ago, while Joe Biden's support is softer than Hillary Clinton's, polls show — trends that worry some longtime Biden supporters in the Hispanic community.

Why it matters: Hispanic voters make up more than 20 percent of the electorate in Florida and Arizona — two swing states that Trump won in 2016 but could deliver Biden the White House.

  • National polling still shows Biden leading Trump with Hispanics by around 20 percentage points, but in some key states that lead evaporates.
  • Biden's challenge may be the clearest in Florida, where exit polling gave Clinton two-thirds of the Hispanic vote in 2016 but where three recent surveys show Trump holding a small lead over Biden with Hispanics.
  • A Marist/NBC poll has Trump up 50%-46%. A Quinnipiac survey last week gave Trump a 45%-43% advantage.
  • And in heavily Democratic Miami-Dade County, Trump leads Biden 47-46% among Hispanics, per a new survey from Bendixen & Amandi. That's in a county that's almost 70% Hispanic and that Trump lost by 30 percentage points four years ago.

Between the lines: Biden focused his running-mate search and convention programming far more around Black voters amid protests against systemic racism and police killings. But Hispanics are a bigger and faster growing voting group.

  • There are more than 3.1 million eligible Hispanic voters in Florida and 1.3 million in Arizona.
  • Pennsylvania has 520,000 eligible Hispanic voters; North Carolina, 338,000; Michigan, 221,000; and Wisconsin, 183,000, according to the Pew Research Center.

Be smart: Biden issued a statement on Tuesday recognizing the Feast Day of La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre — Cubans' celebration of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. "I will always stand strong in defense of religious freedom around the world," it said. "We stand with those who seek a future in which the Cuban people are free to determine their own destiny."

  • Before leaving Wisconsin on Monday, Axios' Alexi McCammond reported, Biden's running mate Kamala Harris squeezed in a meeting with members of Voces de la Frontera focused on registering Latino voters.

The big picture: Trump's push for a U.S.-Mexico border wall and hardline immigration policies make him unpopular with many Hispanic voters. But he has successfully courted other Hispanic-Americans, including evangelicals, those who are a generation removed from immigration, and those of Cuban and Venezuelan descent who respond to his anti-socialism message.

  • Trump is benefiting from "stronger support among evangelical protestant Hispanics who see a clearcut difference between Trump and Biden on faith-based issues," said Rice University Professor Mark Jones.
  • "Regardless of what Trump does, even though it alienates Latino elites, there’s a certain segment that isn’t alienated by him," said Jones. "Trump appears to have a floor with Hispanics."

By the numbers: Biden led Trump 56%-36% with Hispanics in a national Quinnipiac survey taken after both parties' August nominating conventions — a 20-point spread that's significantly narrower than the 38-point lead Clinton had in an average of pre-election polls in 2016.

  • An Emerson College post-convention national survey put Trump’s Hispanic support at 37% — almost 10 points higher than the 28% exit polls show he captured in 2016.
  • Biden was up 10 points over Trump among registered Hispanic voters in a Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation August survey, significantly less than Clinton’s 27-point Hispanic win in Texas.

What they're saying: “For the campaign to win, I expect them to do more,” said Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.), who ran the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s PAC. “If we take any particular community for granted, we could make this race too close, much closer than it needs to be."

  • “It’s undeniable that there appears to be a lukewarm level of support,” said Moe Vela, a Hispanic lawyer and political adviser who worked for Biden in the Obama administration. “I love Joe and and Jill Biden, but they deserve to have a better team.”

Biden’s team dismisses most of the public polling, saying English-language polls aren't as reliable a gauge. “Their methodology is flawed because they all under-sample Hispanics," said Matt Barreto, who polls for Biden and founded the group, Latino Decisions. "You can’t really draw valid conclusions from them."

  • “We have dramatically scaled up our operations and brought on a number of Latino experts to make sure we are doing what we need to be doing,” said Cristobal Alex, a senior Biden adviser.
  • According to Pew, 90 percent of U.S.-born Hispanics are proficient in English.

Trump's team sees validation for focusing on entrepreneurship and culturally conservative issues, said Giancarlo Sopo, the campaign's director of rapid response for Spanish-language media. “Public polling has many flaws, but sometimes there are trends."

Flashback: Biden lost the Hispanic vote in the Nevada and Iowa caucuses and Texas' primary. During the Democratic National Convention, former candidate Julian Castro told Alexi McCammond he saw “a potential slide in Latino support for Democrats” if Biden didn’t pay more attention to Hispanics.

The bottom line: “Trump is doing reasonably well with Hispanics,” Jones said. “There are warning signs for Biden.”

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to show Rep. Tony Cardenas' home state affiliation is a district in California (not Texas).

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