For the last four years, many Democrats have struggled to imagine that anyone with Latin American heritage would vote for President Donald Trump, a man who launched his 2016 campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and pursued the most ferocious anti-immigrant policy of any president in modern history. But the fault lines in that assumption appeared within hours of polls closing on Tuesday. In Miami and the Rio Grande Valley—two vital centers of the Latin American diaspora—Biden performed worse than any other Democrat in recent history.
In Miami—a city where over 70% of people trace their heritage back to Latin America—Trump almost evaporated the Democrat’s advantage. While Biden still won Miami-Dade county, his result was horrible compared to Democrat’s status in the metro just four years earlier. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the city by a margin of almost 30%, with 63% of the vote. Biden barely scraped a margin of 7%, with 53% of votes compared to Trump’s 46%.
In Zapata County, Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to win the vote in almost 100 years.
That result repeated itself in a very different community: The Rio Grande Valley in south Texas, one of the most Latino parts of the country. While Democrats once considered the area “deep blue,” the RGV swung further to the right in 2020 than any other part of the country. Democrats barely managed to win in counties they took easily in 2016. In fact, in Zapata County, Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to win the vote in almost 100 years.
What made Biden sacrifice so much of “the Latino vote” in these two areas? The first part of answering that question means abandoning the idea of “Latinos” as a single, large community. There is no Latino vote. And there is no single reason why people in Miami-Dade and south Texas suddenly shifted toward Trump.
While Miami and the RGV are two of the most important centers for Latin American culture in this country, they also could not be more different. Look at Miami first: While national news mostly pays attention to white Cubans, the city is also a beacon for Afro-Latines from across the Caribbean and the rest of Latin America. Miami is like the United Nations for Latin America: There’s a little bit of everything—Dominicanos, Venezolanos, Nicaraguenses, Quisqueyas, Boricuas, Ayisyens, Panameños, Colombianos and more.
Now look to the west: In Texas, the RGV holds deep history for the Mexican American community. Many fronterizos can trace their family lineage on the land much further back than the border itself. The RGV is also home to Native people, both those who are Indigenous to the valley and also people who immigrated from Mexico and Central America.
Latines, in different parts of the country, vote very differently.
The people in these places are, naturally, different. As gringos across the country ask questions about “the Latino vote,” many people in the Latin American diaspora have tried to explain that we’re not all the same. Of course, Mixteco people in California vote differently than Salvadorans in Florida. But, aside from Anglos’ who try to pretend Latines are all one culture, there’s another key factor that many people (including many Latines themselves) forgot during this election: Immigration is not the number one issue for most people who consider themselves Latines. In fact, according to recent polling, it doesn’t even make the top five.
According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, the top seven election issues of most Latine respondents are the economy, health care, the coronavirus outbreak, racial and ethnic equality, violent crime, Supreme Court appointments, climate change and, lastly, (drumroll) immigration.
Already, some reporters are hearing from Latines in the RGV who say the economy and COVID-19 are the main reason they voted for Trump: They’re scared of more shutdowns under Biden. In Miami, Trump found great success warning people that Biden would turn into Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, or Cuba’s Fidel Castro.
Of course, Miami and RGV are hardly the whole story about this election. In Arizona and even Georgia, Latine voters showed up in record numbers and were a big part of why the states might flip for the Democrats. But that just drives home the point about what Biden and the Democrats got wrong about this election: Latines, in different parts of the country, vote very differently. Because we’re very different. And it’s that simple.