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Hispanic voters now key in swing counties nationwide

NBC News logo NBC News 10/10/2021 Dante Chinni
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WASHINGTON — For decades now, Hispanic voters have been seen as a key voting bloc of the future, and the latest Census shows that how quickly the future is arriving. More than half of all the U.S. population gain since 2010 came from Hispanic people.

But "the Hispanic vote" is a harder thing to nail down. In fact, when you look closely, it looks less like a consistent "bloc" and more like other groups of American voters. That is, increasingly, it looks like different outside factors can have a big influence on how Hispanics act in the voting booth.

So today, as Hispanic Heritage Month winds down, a look at the changing Hispanic vote on the Data Download.

Start with the exit poll results from 2020. At a national level, the story seems pretty clear. Hispanics are a big and important Democratic constituency.

(NOTE: The exit polls and the Census organize their demographic groups differently. The exits ask people whether they are “Latino.” The Census relies on the category “Hispanic or Latino.”)

Nationally, the Latino vote made up about 13 percent of the total ballots cast in 2020 and Democrat Joe Biden won the group by some 33 points.

But the numbers start to look a little different when you break them down at the state level.

In California, the Latino vote is massive (it represented almost a third of all votes cast in 2020) and it gave Biden a huge 52-point advantage. And in New York, the Latino vote was even more solidly Democratic, giving Biden a 54-point edge in 2020.

But the numbers look different in Texas, where Biden had a smaller 17-point edge with those voters. And in Florida, the Hispanic vote looks like a swing-ier part of the electorate, Biden won it by only 7 points.

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The Florida Latino vote is markedly different because of the nature of the population. Cubans are the largest Latino group in the state and there are large numbers of Venezuelans and Colombians. All those countries have suffered under communist regimes and many immigrants from those places are leery of “socialism” in the United States.

And, in a broader sense, some of the more basic rules of American voters also seem to apply to Hispanics. Urban and suburban Latino voters are solidly Democratic in the exit polls, but the numbers shift in rural communities.

In urban and suburban areas nationally, Biden held a big advantage with Latino voters. Winning those voters by more than 30 points in those locales.

But in rural areas, the numbers look very different. Biden still held an advantage, but it shrank to less than half what it was in urban and suburban communities — to 15 points.

For people familiar with politics, that urban/rural split is familiar. It's something that is also apparent among white voters, though admittedly with a greater divide. In 2020, Democrats won urban whites narrowly and lost rural whites by large margins.

Still, the split here with Latino voters is noteworthy.

And there are signs of these differences in the county-level vote from 2020.

According to Census data, there are 234 counties around the country where the population is 30 percent or more Hispanic. And in many of those locales former President Donald Trump did better in 2020 than he did in 2016 — particularly in rural communities and Miami-Dade County, which many ethnic Cubans, Colombians and Venezuelans call home.

Trump lost ground in 21 of those 234 counties, meaning he got a smaller percentage of the vote in 2020 than he did in 2016. But Trump gained ground in 194 of them and in 24 of those counties he saw big gains of 10 points or more.

What do those 24 counties look like? Most are rural and near or along the Mexican border and 21 of them are in Texas. Miami-Dade is also in there, by far the most populous place.

To be clear, these are just counties with large Hispanic populations. We can’t say for certain if Hispanic voters drove the shift in them, however, it seems fairly clear that the Hispanic vote was the key factor in many of those counties because of their demographics. In 20 of the 24, the population is more than 70 percent Hispanic.

The point is that the "Latino vote" or the "Hispanic vote" is clearly growing, but as it grows it may also be changing. Hispanics were once mostly adding to the U.S. population through immigration, but that’s no longer true. Since 2000, most of the nation’s Hispanic population growth has come from births, not immigration.

And as the roots of Hispanic and Latino populations grow in the United States through generations, it may be that they are less and less following the patterns of "the Hispanic and Latino voters" and increasingly following the patterns of "U.S. voters."


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