Florida has historically been one of the most important swing states in U.S. politics. From the notorious hanging chads of 2000 to Barack Obama’s win over Mitt Romney in 2012 by less than 1%, the Sunshine State sure knows how to keep both candidates and the rest of the electorate on their toes. With this year’s race shaping up to be even closer than the 2016 election, President Trump and former Vice-President Joe Biden are campaigning hard in la Florida, trying especially hard to win over the state’s Latino voters and take home its whopping 29 electoral votes.
What makes this task difficult, however, is there really isn’t one “Latino vote.” While we tend to hear the most about Cuban Americans, Florida also has sizable Venezuelan, Colombian, Puerto Rican, Nicaraguan, Mexican, and other Latino populations, each of which leans differently politically. For example, Florida International University’s renowned annual Cuba poll finds that 59% of Cuban-Americans would re-elect President Trump, while other polls find that 54% of Puerto Ricans would vote for Biden.
Getting Cuban Americans and Puerto Ricans on board will be key to winning Florida in the November election, as each group makes up about a third of the state’s electorate. Puerto Ricans especially have increased in number after thousands moved to the mainland in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. So, the question is, what have the two candidates been doing to rack up those votes?
Well, for starters, President Trump has tightened sanctions on Cuba in the name of standing against the evils of Communism, a move many say is intended to solidify support among older Cuban voters. He’s also held multiple rallies and run ads equating Biden’s progressive agenda with socialism, a frightening comparison for many Florida Latinos who came to the United States precisely to escape failed socialist policies and nominally progressive dictatorships in their countries of origin.
Younger US-born Cuban Americans tend to lean Democratic, sandwiched between the overwhelmingly Republican generations that immigrated before 1980 and after 2000.
Former Vice-President Biden, meanwhile, has assured Cuban voters that he believes in giving Cuban immigrants and Cuban Americans a voice in his administration’s policy towards the island. He’s also promised that if elected, he’ll grant Venezuelans Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a temporary and renewable immigration status normally reserved for individuals who can’t return to their home countries due to armed conflict or natural disasters. This is a significant statement given the Venezuelan crisis of the past few years, which has only worsened with COVID-19.
However, no matter how many rallies they hold or what promises they make, it’s not lost on American voters that both presidential candidates are old, white men. This means that to win over Latinos in Florida, not only do Trump and Biden need to appeal to a culturally and politically diverse minority bloc, but they have the added challenge of bridging an age gap and tailoring their messages to address generational nuances. Even among just Florida Cubans, younger US-born Cuban Americans tend to lean Democratic, sandwiched between the overwhelmingly Republican generations that immigrated before 1980 and after 2000.
At a September event for Hispanic Heritage Month, Biden seemed to have a plan for seeming more hip and culturally in the know. Supported by Puerto Rican singers Luis Fonsi and Ricky Martin as well as Mexican-American actress Eva Longoria, the Democratic candidate took the stage, held his cell phone up to the mic, and proceeded to play the opening bars of Fonsi’s 2017 reggaeton hit “Despacito.” As the former Vice President smiled and engaged in some awkward head-bobbing, Fonsi encouraged him to let loose and dance a little from the sidelines.
President Trump had a similar idea, also turning to music as a way of relating to Latino voters. However, instead of playing a summer bop from his cell phone at a live event, the Trump campaign released an ad using Puerto Rican trap singer Bad Bunny’s song “RLNDT.” The ad, featuring the lyrics “Hello, who am I?”, was widely considered a jab at Biden’s characteristic forgetfulness.
Did these strategies work? That’s up for debate. Many people found Biden’s musical interlude cringe-worthy and criticized it for being a superficial attempt at pandering to the Latino community. The Trump campaign latched onto footage of the incident and took the opportunity to remind voters of the sexual harassment allegations previously made against Biden, splicing clips of the former VP’s accusers with some of “Despacito”’s more sensual lyrics.
Despite these gaffes and the rampant misinformation making the rounds on social media, a recent poll out of Quinnipiac University shows Biden ahead of Trump among Florida voters 51% to 40%. However, these numbers shouldn’t be taken at face value. The poll doesn’t show ethnic, racial, or national origin breakdowns —meaning we still can’t be sure where the Latino community stands— and other polls show a much narrower lead for Biden. While the Democratic party seems to be winning the Sunshine State for now, the numbers could still flip at any moment.
The first presidential debate, disastrous as it was, may also have given Biden a boost in the polls. However, with the second debate cancelled (it was originally set for this Thursday in Miami), it seems President Trump will have to stick to interviews, pumping out Spanish-language ads, and other campaign events to overpower Biden and take the Sunshine State.
As a precaution to protect and even expand his current lead, the former vice-president recently visited the Little Havana and Little Haiti sections of Miami to try and win over more traditionally Republican voters. Recently declared non-contagious after a brief battle with COVID-19, President Trump plans to hold more rallies around the country, starting with Florida.
Ya veremos qué pasa — we’ll see what happens.
(Cover photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)