The poll results jibe with months of criticisms leveled at Biden for doing too little to juice up Hispanic support in Florida, as well as in other battleground states. The campaign this week responded by stepping up its Spanish-language outreach, spending more on TV and hiring more staff to change the trajectory — in two previous polls by the firm, Biden led Trump among Hispanics by 18 points in July and 17 points in December.
“Both sides are locked in a death match, with crosswinds blowing in both directions that make the race end up the way most elections do in Florida: locked,” said Carlos Odio, a co-founder of Equis, which hired EMC Research to conduct the survey of 1,000 Florida Hispanic voters. That’s a large sample size designed to capture a dynamic state population that includes Latinos with roots in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Mexico and other parts of Latin America.
Trump neither needs nor expects to win Hispanic voters outright to capture the state in November. His campaign aims to keep the margins where they currently are and hopes that Latino turnout for this Democratic-leaning bloc remains as low or lower than it was in 2018, when Republicans won gubernatorial and Senate races by less than a half-point each.
The good news for Biden is that, while he probably won’t match Clinton’s numbers, he’s on pace to exceed former Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson’s margins with Hispanic voters in the 2018 race he lost narrowly, Odio said. And if Biden continues to get outsized backing from Black voters and keeps pulling more than 40 percent support from non-Hispanic white voters — who are still a supermajority in Florida — he’s in a good spot to win the battleground and end Trump’s hopes of reelection.
Recent polls of Florida’s overall electorate show Biden with a slight lead over Trump, within the margin of error in most polls, making it essentially a tied race here.
“Biden is well-positioned to win Florida, but it could come down to whether he’s able to inch up a few points with Hispanics,” Odio said. “Democrats would be wise to plan for a scenario where Hispanic vote share is lower than 2016 — while still pushing towards the upper bounds of both support and turnout.”
The Biden campaign told POLITICO that this week, for the first time, it has bought more advertising on Spanish-language television than Trump’s campaign and has beefed up its Hispanic-outreach staff by hiring Christian Ulvert, a top strategist on Florida Latinos; Denise Lugo, a Puerto Rican outreach expert; strategic adviser Josh Romero, Hispanic digital specialist Mariana Castro, and Republican-turned-Democratic operative Chris Wills as Hispanic vote director.
In a sign of just how crucial Puerto Rican voters in the state, both campaigns in the past week have used songs from trap singer/rapper Bad Bunny, who approved the Biden campaign’s use of his material. Without Bad Bunny’s permission, the Trump campaign then mockingly repurposed another of the artist’s tunes to make Biden look forgetful.
Biden’s running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, gave her first interview Monday to a Spanish-language network, MegaTV, in South Florida and Biden sat for an interview with Telemundo the following day.
Harris kicked off the campaign’s Hispanic small business program called “Nuestros Negocios, Nuestro Futuro” (“Our Small Businesses, Our Future”) on Saturday with Miami-based Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who behind the scenes had been pushing the campaign for more involvement in the community and her contested congressional race.
Mucarsel-Powell, who in 2016 became the first woman born in Ecuador to win a U.S. congressional seat, represents an important, growing class of Hispanic voters in Florida who are of neither Cuban nor Puerto Rican descent, respectively, according to Equis’ research.
Hailing from throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America, these voters with Pan-Latin American roots, Equis estimates, could account for as many as 46 percent of Florida’s registered Hispanic voters, who are about 17 percent of the overall registered voters in the state and its fastest-growing major demographic.
Odio, who has extensively focus-grouped Hispanic voters, said these Pan-Latin American voters could mark “Biden’s single greatest growth opportunity.” They back Biden over Trump 61-30 percent in the poll and those of Puerto Rican descent support the Democrat over the president by 61-28 percent. Cuban-Americans are the Republican outliers, favoring Trump by 55-36 percent in the poll.
Mexican-Americans, a fast-growing demographic in the state’s voter rolls, received special attention at the Democratic National Convention, which featured an 11-year-old Florida girl reading Trump a letter opposing her mother’s deportation. Her father is a U.S. Marine.
Odio said Equis message-tested the effectiveness of one of the most potent weapons Republicans have used against Democrats, calling them “socialists,” and found that Trump is close to hitting a ceiling on its effectiveness as long as Democrats respond to the charge, instead of essentially ignoring it — a tactic which helped sink Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum in 2018.
The socialism attack is still a major part of GOP messaging to turn out Cuban-American voters as well as those with roots in Colombia, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
The poll shows that on one of the most important issues to Hispanic voters — the coronavirus, which has disproportionately affected Latinos compared to non-Hispanic whites – Biden tops Trump by 23 points on the question of who would handle the crisis better.
But Trump marginally edges Biden by 48-45 percent on the issue of who would be better suited on the economy, which Odio chalks up to Trump’s well-cultivated TV image as a successful businessman. Still, he said, 14 percent of Hispanics who like Trump more than Biden on the economy still say they’ll vote for the Democrat.
Trump’s image as a businessman also has given him a measure of insulation against critics who have called him a racist from the moment he launched his first presidential campaign in 2015 and said that Mexico is “sending” drugs, rapists and other criminals “that have lots of problems.”
Trump’s Hispanic support plummeted after that, and his bruising primary against the Miami Cuban exile community’s favorite son, Sen. Marco Rubio, didn’t help. Cuban-American voters were cool to Trump in Miami in the 2016 presidential race but started coming back to him Trump after he became president, cracked down on Cuba and rattled sabers against socialism and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro.
Cuban-Americans aside, Odio said, the Trump campaign has smartly targeted men who like the president’s image of toughness and his business background.
“Some of them will tell you Donald Trump is a racist, but he’s a businessman and he’s going to shake things up and create opportunity,” Odio said.
But Trump’s campaign says the racism charge isn’t sticking and that Equis’s polls show an improvement for the president, which is also indicated by the nature of Biden’s ads against him.
“It’s telling that Joe Biden’s latest Spanish-language ads are break-up songs encouraging our supporters to abandon President Trump,” said Giancarlo Sopo, the Trump campaign’s director of rapid response for Spanish-language media. “Public polling is flawed, but this confirms our colleagues on the other side of the aisle see the same thing we do in the data: The President’s support among Hispanics is growing and he is on track to surpass his 2016 vote totals among our diverse communities.”