USA Latinx Voters in Florida: An increasingly important group

USA Latinx Voters in Florida: An increasingly important group

With both presidential candidates visiting South Florida this past week as part of their campaigns, the fight for the narrow state of Florida has become a top priority in the electoral race, centered on winning over its Latinx voters.

As polling day for the US elections draws nearer, undecided voters are trying to make up their minds on which candidate they should vote for. Whilst Biden is leading in the national polls, the same was said for Hillary Clinton in 2016, who despite winning almost three million more votes than Trump, ultimately lost the presidential race due to winning less seats in the electoral college system. The system grants different states more seats, meaning that in ‘swing states’ (where the vote could go either way, unlike Blue or Red states where voters turn out overwhelmingly in favour of the Democrat or Republican party respectively) have become the key battle grounds for the Biden and Trump campaigns. 

In particular, Florida is the state with the third most seats and has alternated between the Democrat and Repbulican candidates over the last few elections. Additionally, since 1992, Florida has consistently voted for the winning candidate; during the last election, Florida was won by Trump by 1.2% (just over 100,000 votes). According to recent polls, Biden is set to win Florida by a similarly narrow margin, but this has been in fluctuation over the past few months. What seems to jeopardise Biden’s victory is a group of voters that has been growing in size and that Trump has been targeting which could in fact determine the result of Florida’s vote: the Latinx community. Whilst Latinx voters turn up to vote less than other ethnic groups such as African-Americans, they have grown to become the largest non-White racial group of the country’s electorate, outnumbering African-Americans for the first time. For this reason, it is important to examine how recent campaigning may be galvanising these voters with issues that matter to them.

Winning over the Latinx community in Florida

Hispanic and Latinx Americans are the largest minority in the USA, and their numbers in Florida have been rapidly growing to make up 16.4% of the state’s electorate, meaning that they have become a significant demographic in size to ‘swing’ the vote either way. However, this singular demographic cannot be viewed as a homogenous body: although 71% of Latinx voters in Florida came out in support of Clinton in 2016, Trump obtained 54% of the Cuban-American vote. For this reason, it is important to distinguish the different groups that compose the collective ‘Latinx vote’ and their diverse voting patterns and how this can impact the result in Florida. The Sunshine state alone hosts over 60% of the 2 million Hispanics of Cuban ancestry living in the USA today, making it Florida’s largest ethnic group within the Latinx vote. In addition to Cuban-Americans, it has become increasingly apparent that the Trump campaign has been focusing their efforts elsewhere; namely Colombian and Venezuelan voters. Demographically speaking, these communities have been growing in size. The roughly 250,000 Colombian-Americans eligible to vote have grown to become the fourth largest Hispanic voting group in Florida after Americans of Cuban, Puerto Rican and Mexican descent. Whilst smaller, the number of Venezuelan eligible voters in Florida (75,000) grew by 184% from 2008 to 2018, making it the fastest growing group of Latino origin. Considering the tight margin of 100,000 that gave Trump the win in Florida in 2016, these communities collectively have a large potential to determine such a tight race.

The appeal of anti-communist rhetoric

For Cuban, Colombian and Venezuelan voters in Florida, there is wide disdain for anything remotely related to socialism or communism due to the ruling communist party in Cuba, Colombia’s decades long civil war with communist guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by its Spanish acronym, FARC-EP), and Venezuela’s current turmoil under president Nicolas Maduro and his so-called socialist revolution. The Trump campaign has been using this to its advantage, frequently labelling  Biden as a socialist during the 29 September debate as well as in rallies and on social media, which has largely appealed to these groups. This works particularly well for communities such as those of Cuban heritage, as the vast majority fled or were exiled from Cuba by the ruling Communist Party. It is also important to consider that Miami, South Florida’s largest city, is seen as the undisputed epicenter of the exiled Cuban community and even has a neighbourhood named “Little Havana”. For this reason, anti-communist rhetoric would be particularly powerful here considering Florida’s history in welcoming those that were persecuted by the Castro regime.

Not only this, but Trump makes specific reference to ‘castrochavismo’, a concept that was largely used by former president of Colombia Alvaro Uribe as part of the “No” campaign for Colombia’s 2016 referendum on the Peace Deal with the FARC-EP. The use of the term “castrochavismo” in Colombian politics, a combination of Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s ideology of “chavismo” (named after the late populist president Hugo Chavez), denoted the idea that radical leftist politics such as those held by the FARC-EP would inevitably bring the same humanitarian crisis endured in Venezuela today. With the wave of Venezuelan migrants into Colombia and the media often showing bleak images of empty shelves and decaying food in Venezuelan supermarkets, the term ultimately installed a legitimate fear in many Colombians that the Peace Deal, through its acceptance of the FARC-EP as a political party, was part of a regional phenomenon bringing the end of democracy. It seems that this discourse convinced many Colombians across the USA, with 62% voting “No” in the 2016 referendum on the Peace Deal and 71% voting for current president Ivan Duque from Uribe’s Democratic Center party in the first round of the 2018 general elections. Now, Trump is using the same rhetoric to hint to Colombian-Americans eligible to vote in the upcoming election should be equally worried about Biden bringing about a similar fate to US shores.

Moreover, there have been signs that Trump and the Colombian right have been developing closer ties. Trump has recently shown unwavering support for freeing Uribe from prison, who was held under charges of corruption during his administration. Whilst a controversial figure amongst Colombians for his ties to right-wing paramilitary groups that murdered countless rural Colombians, as well as recent charges of bribery and fraud, many Colombian-Americans in South Florida see him as a hero for his aggressive stance towards the war with the FARC. So much so, that many in Miami-Dade County have petitioned to rename a road as “Alvaro Uribe Way”. In response to Trump’s vocal support, Colombia returned the favour by endorsing Trump’s candidate for the presidency of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Mauricio Claver-Carone, despite many Latin American states expressing concern over having a leader from outside of the region. Principally, it is very likely that many Colombian-Americans that support the politics of Alvaro Uribe as well as his ally and current president of Colombia, Ivan Duque, will buy into this discourse and come out in favour of Trump for his anti-communist stance.

Trump’s foreign policy towards Venezuela

Similarly, Trump’s anticommunist rhetoric appeals directly to  the Venezuelan diaspora, many of whom feel that the leader is the only one to prevent the spread of socialism. For these voters, socialism is emblematic of Maduro and its role in causing record levels of poverty, crime and emigration out of the country. Additionally, Venezuelan-American voters have not forgotten Trump’s strong stance in endorsing Juan Guaido as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela last year and the sanctions placed on high-ranking regime officials linked to criminal organisations. When Maduro barred key opposition figures from participating in the 2018 presidential elections, the opposition in turn boycotted elections and swore in Guaido, the then leader of the National Assembly, as interim president until free and fair elections could be held. In their immediate recognition of Guaido as president, the Trump administration was viewed by Venezuelans as the opposition’s strongest international ally and a key actor to force regime change. Many believe that Trump is the only external figure to have done something to advance a transition from Maduro. For the most part, the 169,000 Venezuelan-American voters, a third of which are situated in Florida, will almost certainly come out overwhelmingly in support of Trump in the hopes that he will bring a solution to the ongoing crisis in Venezuela and continue his aggressive stance vis-a-vis the Maduro regime. 

Biden’s appeal to these Latinx voters

From his part, Biden has recognised the importance of these voters. Similarly to Trump, he has denounced Maduro as a dictator and has also reaffirmed the importance of waging sanctions to encourage regime change. He has even gone further, declaring a programme on economic reconstruction democratic transition for both Venezuela and Cuba, as well as promising an extension of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuelans. Still, how far-reaching his message has been in the midst of Trump’s continuous depictions of Biden as a communist is more difficult to judge. 

Outlook for Polling Day

It is very likely that Cuban, Colombian and Venezuelan voters will turn up on polling day overwhelmingly in favour of Trump for his anticommunist, anti-Maduro stance and his foreign policy towards the region during his administration. What remains to be seen is whether this could indeed rock the state.

The alternative scenario where Biden wins Florida remains a very plausible outcome according to polls. As previously mentioned, Latinx voters turn up to vote in smaller numbers, leaving other ethnic groups in Florida such as African Americans with a chance of also swinging the vote. Nevertheless, the Trump campaign’s targeting of Colombian and Venezuelan voters reflects the rising importance of the growing Latinx community in the USA and how it is becoming more mobilised to vote. It also signals how foreign policy promises can win over voters that have connections to the countries in question. Finally, it reinstates the fact that Florida is truly a wildcard state when it comes to its voting behaviour from the many different groups that are present in the state. Harnessing enough of these groups will be key to winning this swing state.

Categories: North America, Politics

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