The map of battleground states was notably different this year. In particular, two reliable Republican strongholds, Texas and Arizona, were not automatically shaded red. While ultimately Texas went for Trump, Arizona went blue for the first time in 24 years.
An essential part of this story was Hispanic voters. Although they are one of the fastest growing ethno-racial groups, Hispanics have had persistently low levels of voter turnout. Often overlooked by both political parties and susceptible to the voter suppression efforts that have increasingly become a part of the political landscape, little more than half of eligible Hispanic voters usually participate in presidential elections.
This changed in 2020. While the numbers are still coming in, all indicators point to a dramatic increase in their participation. This is a testament to concerted grass-roots organizing efforts, in which Latinas often play an important role. Also notable is the role of the Hispanic vote in Nevada, which appears to be following in the footsteps of Colorado in a shift from purple to blue.
While people are noting the significance of Hispanic voters in building support for Democrats in the Southwest, much attention has focused on Florida and the role that some Hispanic voters may have played there in securing a Trump victory. Here we see the need to treat Hispanic voters not as a monolith, but as a heterogeneous group with distinct political histories and different political preferences both across and within these communities.
Data from the American Election Eve Poll, conducted by Latino Decisions, is instructive. According to the survey, while Mexican-Americans, the largest Hispanic group in the Southwest and across the nation, strongly supported Biden (74%) over Trump (23%), Cuban-Americans in Florida and beyond showed a preference for Trump (52%) over Biden (45%). Other Hispanic groups, such as Puerto Ricans, Central Americans, and South Americans, all tended to support Biden, but to varying degrees.
Digging in a little deeper, there are other important considerations to make regarding the level and direction of support within the various Hispanic communities. First, there was a gender gap, with 73% of Latinas reporting support for Biden versus 67% of Latinos. This gender gap varied from state to state, with the biggest gap in Texas, where 75% of Latinas reported voting for Biden versus 59% of Latinos.
There is also an age gap. In the aggregate, older Hispanics reported stronger support for Biden, but in Florida, 64% of Hispanics between 18 and 39 supported Biden versus 54% of those 40 and above.
It’s become clear that political parties ignoring or making uninformed assumptions about Hispanic voters do so at their peril. In all 50 states, Hispanic voters have come to make up increasingly larger shares of the electorate. According to the Pew Research Center, in battleground states, Hispanics grew more than any other racial or ethnic group as a share of eligible voters between 2000 and 2018.
While party outreach has improved somewhat in recent years, it still falls short. Hispanic communities are underrepresented both in regard to their numbers in office and attention to their needs. In the past year, Hispanics have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, both by the virus itself and its economic ramifications. Hospitalization rates for Hispanics are 4.5 times the rate among whites, and the economic downturn has hit Hispanic workers particularly hard, with men and especially women experiencing higher levels of unemployment than does the general population.
More concerted efforts to facilitate and connect with Hispanic leadership and engaging in more meaningful outreach to local communities could go a long way toward mobilizing these voters. What happened in the Southwest and elsewhere shows that this is possible.
Celeste Montoya is an associate professor of political science and women and gender studies, and director of the Miramontes Arts & Sciences Program, at the University of Colorado Boulder.