Who is the ‘Latino voter?’ 2020 election showed Latino voters are diverse and vary region to region

By: Daniel Gonzalez Arizona Republic

Ana Paula Cortes and Claudia Montijo share a common cultural background.

Both are Latina women of Mexican descent. Both are in their 20s. And both are professionals. Cortes is a freelance writer in New York City who was born in Chula Vista, California, but grew up nearby Ensenada, a port city in the Mexican state of Baja California.

Montijo, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, is an accountant who grew up in Nogales, Arizona, and now lives in Scottsdale.

But their political views couldn’t be further apart.

Cortes is a diehard progressive who voted for Joe Biden because she likes his pro-immigration policies and was deeply offended by President Donald Trump’s attacks on Mexican immigrants.

“For me, Biden was the best option. There was less hate,” Cortes said.

Montijo is a staunch Catholic conservative who voted for Trump because he opposed abortion rights and she believes he did a good job building the economy despite the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m pro-life, so that is huge to me and that is one of the biggest reasons that I voted for him,” Montijo said.

Their political differences show how Latino voters are not alike even among those with similar cultural backgrounds.

“That is a perfect example of why you can’t take Latino voters for granted. You can’t assume they are going to vote one way,” said Andrew Lim, quantitative research director at the New American Economy, a New York City-based nonprofit research group. “You may assume because you are a person of color you may feel a certain way, but things like faith and things like your perspective on the economy are also just as important to the way that people vote and that goes the same for Latino voters as well.”

The 2020 election shattered the widely held assumption that Latinos are a monolithic bloc that largely vote the same way. Analyses emerging from voting data shows that there are many differences in the way Latinos vote based on gender, nationality, religious background, education levels and region of the country.

“I think a lot of people took for granted or assumed that Hispanic or Latino voters were a monolith that they voted en masse in one direction, which is simply not the case,” Lim said.

For example, the Trump campaign’s attempt to paint the Biden/Harris Democratic ticket as beholden to socialists, even wrongfully, resonated with Cuban American, Venezuelan American and Colombian voters in south Florida, Lim said.

Trump also reportedly had strong support from Mexican American voters in predominantly Latino counties in the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas, where Trump capitalized on fears that a Biden presidency would mean loss of high-paying jobs in the region’s oil industry, Lim said.

Trump carried both Florida and Texas on Nov. 3.

In Arizona, a grassroots campaign to mobilize Latino voters helped tip Arizona from red to blue, Lim said.

In Maricopa County, home to 60% of the state’s population, precincts with high concentrations of Latino voters showed 75% support for Biden, according to an analysis of voting data by the UCLA Latino Politics and Policy Initiative.

Future campaigns need to understand the differences and nuances among Latino voters to better tailor messages, especially in battleground states such as Arizona, Nevada, Florida and Georgia, Lim said.

“Context matters and the nuances in the population matter so going forward smart campaigns would pay attention to that and craft messaging and arguments to support themselves based on that,” Lim said. “Not just the one size fits all strategy.”

A closer look at how Latinos voted

There are now more than 60.9 million Latinos in the U.S. They make up more than 18% of the U.S. population, and 13% of the electorate, according to Pew Research Center.

In Arizona, Latinos make up 32% of the population and were expected to make up one in four voters in 2020, according to UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.

Latinos make up an increasingly larger share of the electorate in all states, according to Pew. In Arizona, 700,000 Latinos voted in 2020, according to a Latino Decisions/UnidosUS/Somos survey.

Latinos trace their ancestry to Spanish-speaking countries and Brazil. But there is a lot of racial and ethnic diversity among Latinos, who can be White, Black, Indigenous, and Asian, and often are a mixture of many of those races.

While Mexican Americans make up the largest share of Latinos, there are also large numbers of Latinos in the U.S. who trace their ancestry to Cuba, Guatemala, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Colombia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Brazil and Puerto Rico.

Some Latinos are immigrants, others come from families that go back generations, some to before there was a United States.

Some are of mixed heritage, for example, a Mexican mother and a Cuban father.

Some Puerto Ricans were born in the U.S. while some come from the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. And while Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens they are often treated like immigrants by people on the mainland.

A survey of more than 15,000 Latino voters conducted in the final days before the election by Latino Decisions/UnidosUS/Somos found many differences among groups of Latino voters.

Latinos overall voted for Biden by a large margin.

Seven out of 10 Latinos nationally voted for Biden over Trump, according to the Latino Decisions/UnidosUS/Somos survey.

Biden did better among Mexican American voters. Biden received 74% of the vote among Mexican American voters. Trump received 23%.

Biden received a 59% majority from Latino voters of Central American ancestry. Trump received 29%.

Trump did better with Cuban Americans who gave Trump 52% of their votes to Biden’s 45%, according to the survey. Trump also captured 40% of the vote from Latino voters of South American ancestry, the survey said.

“The Latino vote proved critical and to both parties in different places, which sends that message that meaningful outreach is essential,” said Clarissa Martinez de Castro. She is deputy vice president for research advocacy, and legislation, at the Latino civil rights group UnidosUS.

While a lot of attention has been paid post-election to Trump’s surprisingly strong support among Latino voters, Biden still won the majority of the Latino vote in every state, she said.

Biden also had the strongest support from young Latinos, receiving 74% from Latino voters 18 to 29; receiving 75% of Latino voters over 60; and receiving 73% from Latina women, the survey found.

While there are many differences among Latino voters, the Latino Decisions poll showed they feel strongly about many of the same issues, among them concern over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, support for an economic stimulus package, and support for immigration reform, Martinez said.

Cortes, 26, the Latina freelance writer in New York who voted for Biden, said the political divisions among Latinos became apparent to her in comments she read on Homeis, a social networking, support and jobs platform for immigrants with 400,000 users.

She was surprised to see that many Latinos on the platform supported Trump, despite his repeated disparaging remarks towards Latino immigrants and his attempt to divide Mexico and the United States with a border wall.

“Something that I saw a lot was that Cubans, Venezuelans, people who come from communism or socialism think that Democrats are going to make this country like that,” Cortes said. “So they are Trump supporters, 100%.”

“But then there are the other Latinos who say if you support Trump, you are not a real Latino,” Cortes said.

Homeis conducted its own poll and found that Latinos from countries with communist and socialist authoritarian dictatorships such as Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua favored Trump, said Laura Arrazola Lievano, who manages the Latin American community on the Homeis platform.

“Their political inclinations in the U.S. are a reflection of that fear and that reality that they probably left their country because of these regimes,” said Arrazola Lievano, who is from Colombia.

“Other Latinos in general, we have seen a pro-Biden side because they have seen what Trump has done about immigration, what he has said about Latinos, what he said about Mexicans,” Arrazola Lievano said.

A total of 1,000 Homeis users answered the poll, with 58% leaning toward Biden and 42% in support of Trump.

Montijo, 28, the Latina accountant from Scottsdale, said she voted for Trump in 2016 and in 2020.

Montijo believes Trump’s rhetoric about Latino immigrants was misconstrued as disparaging Latinos. He was condemning illegal immigration, she said.

“I don’t think that is what he meant,” Montijo said. “In a way, he’s right in the sense that people need to come to this country legally.”

Montijo sometimes clashed with her father, who voted for Biden, over her support for Trump, and with other family members, although her mother and sister also voted for Trump.

“Even though they were not directed at me, I did hear from other family members a lot of negative comments towards Trump and his administration, that he hasn’t done anything, and he’s racist and blah, blah, blah,” Montijo said. “But I don’t think any of those family members were educated. I think they were all going off what they hear on television.”

Montijo said she also heard comments from family members that voting for Trump “is going against our people.”

“I really don’t believe that is the case,” she said.




Creosote Partners is an Arizona firm focused on legislative advocacy, coalition building, and strategic communications.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Creosote Partners

Creosote Partners is an Arizona firm focused on legislative advocacy, coalition building, and strategic communications.