2020 Post-Mortem (Part Two): The American Dream Voter

THE TAKEAWAYS

Here’s what you most need to know:

  1. The debate over whether to prioritize the economy or public health in the middle of COVID — a debate that became, for some, about the value of hard work and the American Dream — eclipsed the issues that held some Hispanic voters back from supporting Trump in 2016, giving these formerly hesitant Latinos the “permission” they needed to embrace Trump’s re-election.
  2. Movement toward Trump coincided with one-sided attention lavished on key topics (e.g. reopening the economy) and geographies (e.g. South TX/South FL). The moral of the story: uncontested communication and voters feeling unheard had, as always, a major impact.
  3. Campaigns, policy action, and media all mattered greatly. Less-partisan Latinos are navigating their identities and values in ways that don’t always map out neatly on the political spectrum and aren’t always consistent. That makes campaigns and communication all the more impactful. On that note, few of the opinions or dynamics we include in this report are static — they can also be shaped by parties going forward.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY (tl;dr)

These are the dynamics we found most notable…

I. The economy unlocked a door

Support for Trump on the economy, COVID and the intersection of the two (i.e. his focus on reopening the economy) stick out as major drivers of his vote among Latinos.

II. The socialism attack broke through

“Socialism” created a space for some Latinos to defect from the Democrats, and it wasn’t just in Florida.

III. Race mattered (but not in the ways popularly imagined)

The events after the murder of George Floyd did not seem to alter the trajectory of the election, but race and public safety both still likely played a role (in both directions).

IV. One-sided communication enabled bigger movement

South Florida and South Texas served as examples of what happens when a candidate is allowed a one-sided advantage on a highly resonant issue (socialism in one, border security in the other).

V. Stories left to be told

This report does not purport to tell the story of all Hispanics in the 2020 election and, in fact, remains incomplete even in its attempt to explain this one subset of Trump voters. A few ways jump out: What happened in Arizona (which showed the smallest 2016–2020 Latino shift)? And what failed to persuade or mobilize the 50% of eligible Latino voters who sat out the election (a rate of abstention higher than that of other racial/ethnic groups)?

VI. The 2020 moment hasn’t ended

The debate to watch going forward: Who is perceived to be better for American workers?

VII. A study guide

VII. Video homework

Those still wondering how Trump made gains among some Latinos could do worse than watch this campaign video featuring mixed martial artist Jorge Masvidal: from the starting argument that Democrats act “entitled to the Latino vote”, it goes on to build a permission structure for some Hispanic voters to come around to Trump. The spot, currently with 34 million views, was Trump’s most-watched campaign video on YouTube — among all audiences. (As a reminder, Latinos spend twice as much time on YouTube as non-Latinos.)

VIII. Parting charts

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Equis Research

Equis Research

Creating a better understanding of the Latino electorate