While it may come as a surprise, significant segments of the Latino electorate remain lukewarm about Joe Biden with less than a month to go until the presidential election. Why? There are many reasons, but one rises above all else: The Biden campaign has not honed its messaging towards Latinos.
The key to understanding Latinos is that they are not a monolithic group. There are regional intra-Latino differences that can’t be masked or erased. East Coast Latinos have different priorities compared to their West Coat brethren. While some national Latino and non-Latino organizations might find that inconvenient, it is the reality on the ground. This does not mean Latinos cannot get along or work together. It just means that for Latinos, all politics is regional.
Take Florida, for example. Latinos represent 26.4 percent of the state’s population, but there are many subsections within that percentile. A recent state poll found that 41.2 percent of Latinos support Trump, while 55.6 percent support Biden. This might seem relatively innocuous on the surface, but a closer look will find that 29.9 percent of the Latino respondents are Puerto Rican, 27.1 percent Cuban, 18.3 percent South American, 8 percent Central American, 7.5 percent Mexican (Chicano), and 3.4 percent Caribbean. Take a deep dive into these numbers, and you’ll find that Cuban-Americans tend to have a more favorable opinion of Trump.
In Arizona, on the other hand, Latinos represent 31.7 percent of the population, with Mexican-Americans representing 87.6 percent of that group. A recent poll of Arizona voters found that if the election were held today, 65 percent of Latinos would vote for Biden, 27 percent for Trump, and 5 percent don’t know. Ethnic group composition and regional histories among Latino communities make a difference in political behavior.
What isn’t clear is Biden’s messaging, acknowledging these realities. If Biden wants to win, his messaging to Latinos needs to be concise and compelling. As it stands, his outreach remains muddled, leaving Latinos wondering if their issues are resonating or even understood. Arizona is a good case study. The fact that the overwhelming Mexican American electorate has not rallied fully behind Biden is a sign that this community remains worried – still feeling invisible. For all the vulgarities Trump has uttered toward Latinos, the fact that he is still polling so high with this demographic means that Biden is not doing enough.
Many political campaigns make the mistake of using cookie-cutter messaging templates to reach all Latinos. When these campaigns acknowledge the cultural, linguistic, historical, and regional complexities between groups, they either invest too little in this outreach or address it too late. Looking at the campaign from the outside, Biden’s messages and tone do not exude the confidence when speaking to or about Latinos. In effect, Latinos are afterthoughts, if at all. The Biden campaign needs to understand that Latinos are paying attention. We might not be loud about it, but the neglect will show at the polls.
Disregarding the Latino electorate is not new. In a recent interview, Linda Ronstadt, Mexican-American singer and Grammy Award winner, spoke of the discrimination she experienced growing up and the dismissive attitudes of some in the music industry over her Mexican heritage. In response to the current political crisis, she stated, “It’s time for Latinos to stop being invisible and to stop being dismissed as unnecessary, deficient or less than.” Indeed, despite our growing numbers, and contributions to this country, Latinos remain concerned over the direction of our politics.
When Trump spoke at his most recent rally at the White House, Latinos were condescended, like children devoid of history and critical thinking. Trump’s efforts to court Latinos wreaked of insincerity – full of hallow platitudes and baseless facts. It was almost as if the word Latino had been inserted into a speech intended for another audience. No mention about the tens of thousands of Latinos dead of COVID-19, his attacks on immigrants, or the countless Latino families suffering unemployment. We are supposed to be grateful for the rolls of paper towels he tosses our way.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. At over thirteen percent of the national electorate, Latinos are a vital constituency in critical swing states. However, the problem is that Latino voter turnout has always been relatively low compared to other groups. According to Pew, only 47.6 percent of eligible Latino voters turned out to vote in 2016 compared to 65.3 percent for Whites, 59.6 percent for African Americans, and 49.3 percent for Asians. To win the presidency, Biden will need to move aggressively to narrow this Latino voter gap and increase Latino voter turnout to over 60 percent.
So, what does Biden need to do? First, “Build the Wall” must be turned on its head and replaced with “The Wall Will Come Down and Trump Will Pay for It!” Trust me, Latinos will perk up when we hear that. Economic success and vitality come from partnerships, trade, and humane immigration policies, not walls and racist rants. Biden should also articulate his intention to dismantle all detention centers, especially the for-profit jails, that incarcerated tens of thousands of children and families. Furthermore, Biden must promise the nation that he will put forward a new comprehensive immigration bill within the early days of his administration. The ‘DREAM Act’ (or DACA) should be front and center in that legislation.
Next: a commitment that Biden will nominate a Mexican American to the U.S Supreme Court. As the largest minority group in the country – and still growing – it is time we have representation on the highest court in the land. By having a Mexican-American Supreme Court Justice, the Court will have Latino diversity, with Justice Sonya Sotomayor being of Puerto Rican descent.
Fourth, Biden must hire and appoint more Latinos, on a proportional basis, to all federal agencies. Finally, he must develop a transparent Latin America policy platform. The United States must work in tandem with our Latin American partners for economic investment and regional security and help support and build democratic institutions.
Despite everything I’ve expressed here, the final calculation will depend on two other factors: voting and Latino community voices. First and foremost, Latinos must show up to vote, whether in person or by mail. We also need to get the word out – taking to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc. to articulate our narratives. Latino families – specifically grandparents – must clarify that not voting on November 3rd is socially unacceptable (no tamales for Christmas for non-voters).
One of my favorite quotes comes from the film Lawrence of Arabia, “Nothing is written. We make our own history.” Each one of us has a role to play in the writing of our history. Let’s stand up and be heard right now.