Trump and Biden are eyeing the Latino vote

Illustration of candidate Trump on the left with a tattoo of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele and “I love Milei,” in reference to the Argentine president, and candidate Biden on the right with a tattoo of his campaign logo “Latinos con Biden.” Image from CONNECTAS, used with permission.

Story written by Leonardo Oliva for CONNECTAS. Edited and republished on Global Voices according to a media agreement.

“In Trump’s four-year term we had great international politics, no wars, unemployment or inflation, and we were self-sufficient in oil,” said Argentinian dentist Ecio Pozzi, 47, who emigrated to the United States in July 2001. Now a resident of New Jersey and a US citizen, he says he’ll vote for Donald Trump in November. “Latinos like myself, who came here legally and never lived off the State, don’t want what’s happening in our countries to happen here. And that is what we see in Biden and Democrats.”

Pozzi voted for Barack Obama twice and then in 2016 he supported Trump. Like Trump’s most radical followers, he is convinced that Joe Biden fraudulently won the election in 2020 — despite the fact that there is no evidence to support that claim. He also believes in one of Trumpism’s conspiracy theories: that the current government is opening the doors to immigrants in order to get votes. “They are paying for their stay in hotels in Manhattan, and this month they began handing out pre-paid credit cards with 1,000 dollars for monthly expenses.”

Colombian Daniela Rey, 37, has been living in California for 15 years. She works as an “herbalist and entrepreneur” and, in November, unlike Pozzi, she’ll vote for Biden: “Trump is crazy. His four-year term was a total joke. Biden is old and he is probably not the best choice, but he is a serious man who has handled the financial crisis of recent years.”

For her, the economy has been the greatest achievement of the current president. “For three years we have not been concerned with what the government does because we have a reliable and serious person in office. And then there is the fact that Trump won’t shut up about Russia… so they are obviously in collusion,” Daniela adds. She is one of many voices condemning the alleged connivance between Trump and Putin, considered the great enemy of Biden and the United States.

Pozzi and Rey are part of the 36.2 million Latin Americans eligible to vote in US presidential elections in November. According to data by Voto Latino, an organization dedicated to encouraging the community’s participation in civic life in the United States, the number of Latino voters in 2024 has increased by 6.5 percent in relation to 2020, and 20.5 percent more voters can vote now than in 2016, when Trump won the election. In the upcoming election, set for November 5, more than one of every ten voters (14 percent) will be Latino.

Aside from the white majority, Americans of Latino origin are the second voting bloc, followed by African Americans. However, fewer Latinos voted in 2020: 51 percent of them cast their ballot, while Black voters amounted to 63 percent of the vote, and white voters, 74 percent.

Dennis Gonzalez, vice-president of strategic initiatives at Voto Latino, told CONNECTAS that, in this election, 4.1 million new Latino voters will be eligible. And he highlighted that “they are either very young or seniors, and live in swing states,” such as Florida and Arizona.

It’s the economy, stupid

For the first time in nearly 250 years of history, Latino immigrants might be key in electing the new president. And their traditional sympathy for Democrat candidates can’t be taken for granted in 2024. According to the Annual Hispanic Public Opinion Survey, many have opted to refrain from party affiliation, which could be detrimental to the Democrats. Moreover, Biden’s support among Latinos went from 67 percent in 2020 to 53 percent today. In the meantime, Trump’s support has grown in that segment from 29 percent to 33 percent.

That is why the Republican campaign is trying to fish in foreign waters, among Black and Latino voters. Steve Bannon, the guru of Trumpism himself, admitted this in his speech in the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the far right conference held in Washington DC There, Trump shared the spotlight with two Latin American “stars”: the presidents of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, and Argentina, Javier Milei.

“Polls show that Latinos are not satisfied with Biden’s politics, and it is a huge opportunity to win their trust,” declared Mercedes Schlapp, organizer of the CPAC, to justify the invitation of the two Hispanic heads of state to an electoral event in the United States, an unprecedented situation.

A week later, Trump, who openly hugged the Argentinian president in the CPAC, praised him in public again, “I love him because he loves Trump,” he said. And he added, apropos of his slogan Make America Great Again: “This is the greatest movement in the history of our country, maybe in the history of any country, even in Argentina they went MAGA.”

Donald Trump praised Javier Milei again. “He loves me and I love him.”

Michael Shifter, former president of the political forum Inter-American Dialogue, minimizes the influence that Milei might have on the Republican campaign. “The U.S.-based Argentinian population has no electoral or political clout,” he said to CONNECTAS. And pertaining to Bukele, his views were similar: “The Salvadoran population is significant, but it is concentrated in three places, Washington DC, Los Angeles and New York. And because those states are Democrat, Biden has a strong lead there already. It is almost impossible for Trump to win there.”

Nowadays, US residents are more concerned with illegal immigration than with any other issue, as a recent poll by Gallup revealed. Nevertheless, Latinos are more worried about the economy, another poll found. It is, paradoxically, one of the accomplishments of the Biden administration, but its benefits seem not to have reached migrants in the lowest social levels, who are underpaid, can’t access housing and are largely affected by increased prices.

“Even though inflation has gone down, prices in the consumer basket are still on the rise, and that is something Americans are experiencing on a daily basis,” analyzed Robert Valencia, a journalist of the #CONNECTASHub of Colombian origin specializing in international affairs and based in the United States. To explain the change in trend of the Latino vote against Biden, he adds: “Although figures at macroeconomic level show one thing, the overall citizen emotion differs because their basic products are getting more expensive. That is likely what has affected Joe Biden and favored Donald Trump.”

Ultimately, as Valencia says, “the economy has always been the main driver in a presidential election. That was exactly what happened to Trump in 2020, when the pandemic upended the economy and Biden won.”

On March 2, a new poll confirmed Trump as the favored candidate to return to the White House. In it, the Republican would get 48 percent of the votes, versus Biden’s with 43 percent (and 10 percent of undecided voters). A likely explanation of the bad outlook for Biden’s reelection: most people polled consider the economy is not going well.

A heterogeneous vote

Both Shifter and Valencia acknowledge that the Latino vote (encompassing immigrants and first and second generation children) is becoming more and more relevant in the United States due to their growing demographic weight. A projection by the United States Census Bureau points that one in four Americans will be of Latino origin by 2060.

Yet Latinos can’t be considered a monolithic cluster. As with any other populational segment, there are noticeable ideological differences among them. Pozzi and Rey are proof of it.

“Although a Cuban, Nicaraguan or Venezuelan voter may vote Republican in southern Florida, voters in other parts of the United States (Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican in New York, in Illinois) might vote Democrat,” Valencia asserts. And he closes with a specific case: “In southern Texas there is an area called the Rio Grande Valley, it has a large Mexican population that used to be entirely Democrat and which chose to vote for Donald Trump in 2020. This shows that Hispanics are not necessarily loyal to a party.”

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