Lost Horizons: Parsing the Latin Vote

According to the Pew Research Center, 2020 will be the first year that Latins (I hate the term “Hispanic”; so trite) make up the largest minority group in the electorate, eclipsing black voters. Recent polls have also put President Trump’s approval rating among Latin voters at around 50 percent.

If that were to translate into real turnout numbers, along with his increased support in the black community (both groups giving the president credit for the economy and historic low unemployment numbers in their groups), the Democrats could expect to lose 10-15 percent of their base vote.

If that were to happen, the Democratic nominee for president would have about the same chance of being elected as would a tourist in Nogales of staying sober more than two hours after arrival.

How do I get away with that Mexican joke? Easy. My folks are from Colombia and as Tom Wolfe said, explaining the attitudes of Miami Latins in Back to Blood: “One thing you have to remember. Here, everybody hates everybody.”

Hate might not be the right word. Better to call it intense disdain. Given that, do you think people who have such divergent views even about each other are all going to vote the same way?

Truth is, Latins are not politically monolithic. Anyone who says otherwise or speaks of “the Hispanic vote” either hasn’t done his homework, is an idiot, or has something to gain by promulgating the falsehood.

Ironically, what’s being lost, or ignored, is the concept of “the diversity” inherent in Latins across the Western hemisphere.

Different lands, different ancestries, different peoples, different histories, and different cultures make up the Latin voting bloc. The fact that they speak the same language, or their parents and grandparents did, isn’t a lock that they will vote alike. I know this from experience, as I was a political consultant for almost 20 years, many times being hired to focus on “the Hispanic vote.” Easy money. After I deposited the check of the client, I told them that it simply doesn’t exist.

What clients perceived to be that voting bloc was primarily the Mexican and Puerto Rican vote, with the Florida Cubans thrown in on the GOP side of the ledger. When other operatives—never Latins—insisted I was wrong, always based on language unity, I countered, “Queen Elizabeth II speaks English. Bob Marley spoke English. They did not hang out together.”

That doesn’t even account for the wide-ranging regional accents amongst Latin groups. Ask any Latin. Spaniards, Chileans, and Argentinians think Puerto Rican and Cuban accents sound like guttural noises emanating from farm animals. Other South Americans can barely understand Central Americans. And try to factor in the Catalan lisp? It’s practically Babel.

There are also class, diaspora, and bloodline angles to the Latin vote. Latin culture is extremely hierarchical. Spain still has a king, and of the House of Bourbon no less. Somewhere, Louis XIV is smiling.

Among Latins (I’m not speaking of outsiders here) the more European blood a group has, the higher up it is on the pecking order. The more slave or Indian blood, the lower. Since I have both black and Indian blood, if I hadn’t been born in the United States and adopted by my American parents, my future may not have been bright back in old Medellin, the city of my biological parents.

Thus the Spaniards are at the pinnacle. They are followed by the Chileans and Argies, they of much direct Euro ancestry. After that the lesser Southerners like my Colombians and what used to be the Venezuelans before they trifled with socialism. Then the upper crust Mexicans and Cubans, with everybody else bringing up the rear guard. As the Brazilians are Portuguese are not of Spanish blood, their standing is mid-range, but comes with an asterisk.

Harsh? Cynical? Yeah, probably. And also the reality not of their merits as peoples, but of their perception amongst fellow Latins. This reality overcomes borders and plays a part in Latin voting in the United States.

How they got here is also is important in any analysis of U.S. Latin voting patterns. For example, the Cubans alighted as legitimate political refugees, especially as they were sold out by the feckless John F. Kennedy at the Bay of Pigs. When Castro took over, the best and brightest had the most to lose, so they vamoosed for South Florida. That’s how Miami turned from a relatively sleepy beach town in the early 1960s into the bustling, never-sleeping economic capital of South America it is today. Those who came over knew what they had lost because of socialism and they were sure the same bacillus wasn’t going to infect their new home. This kept them, and keeps them, solidly in the upscale pro-business GOP camp and is a decisive factor when Republicans win Florida.

The economic refugees from Mexico and Central America think quite differently.

When I was cutting my teeth in the South Florida Latin GOP politics of the 1970s, the catch phrase was, no exaggeration, “Democratas son Communistas.” I mean, we sprayed for Democrats in Dade County in those days. Just as I would guess they fumigate to root out the GOP in some U.S. Mexican and Puerto Rican voter areas today.

There is, however, a secret and sadly non-deployed weapon the GOP has in its arsenal, but is too cowardly to use. The same weapon would also have a devastating effect on the Democratic black vote.

It is social conservatism.

As opposed to fashionable Anglo-Saxon and non-Latin American society, religion still plays a large role in the social attitudes of Latins. Specifically, traditional biblical views on abortion and homosexuality, and related issues, are strong amongst Latins across the ethnic spectrum. Conventional gender models are also primary, and if you’ve ever seen a telenovela, the extreme of convention is quite accepted in the pop culture.

If the GOP used Latin-targeted media on those topics launched late in a national race, the Democrats would not have time to recover their footing with Latin voters. You wouldn’t have to mince words either. For confirmation, go to any African-American barber shop, or Latin luncheonette, and ask the customers about their opinion on gay marriage. Then write the ad script directly from quotes. At least the quotes you could use in public.

Culturally, the feel of different Latin groups is quite distinct. Contrast the mellifluous voice of Cuban Beny More, known as the Frank Sinatra of Cuba, with the Andes-infused cumbia of Colombian Carlos Vives. Check out the tune of Mexican pop princess Thalia, as compared to the music of Brazilian national treasure Antonio Carlos Jobim. Not that Cubans can’t jump, as Desi Arnaz and Gloria Estefan show in these cuts. When you grow up immersed in these cultures, as many U.S. Latins do, it has an effect.

As culture directly mirrors society and social conditions are highly indicative of voting patterns, different cultural horizons mean different voters. Democrats have more than a bit to gain by claiming the opposite and trying to log roll Latins into voting their way.

How is this likely to play out in 2020?

Trump will maintain high support with Cubans and South Americans. The Democrats will remain solid with Puerto Ricans and Mexicans. There are Mexicans and Central Americans, however, who have been here legally for generations who are not amused by the image the illegals portray to their fellow Americans. This is much the way early German-Jewish immigrants to America were appalled at the seeming coarseness of shtetl Jews of the Ellis Island period.

If the embarrassment translates into votes for Trump on the immigration issue and high Latin employment rates it could be a windfall compared with past Latin support for GOP presidential nominees.

If that happens, then maybe the Democrats will suddenly become enthusiastic about a very high border wall.

Photo Credit: Chris Putnam/Barcroft Images/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

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About David Kamioner

David Kamioner is a veteran of U.S. Army intelligence, serving with the Pershing Nuclear Brigade and the First Infantry Division. Subsequent to that he worked as a political consultant for over 15 years and ran a homeless shelter for veterans in Philadelphia for over four years. He is a public relations consultant in Washington, D.C. and lives in Annapolis, MD.