PHOTO BY © MATT BLACK/MAGNUM PHOTOS Courtesy of House of Photography/ Deichtorhallen Hamburg

READS | 09.11.2020

The US presidential election points towards a multi-ethnic democracy - and its contradictions

Joe Biden is the new President-elect - and Democrats have long insisted that an increasingly multi-ethnic population will favor them in the long-run. However, the surge in Latino votes for the G.O.P. might question that assumption. Please read an annotated collection of some of the most interesting writing on this important aspect of the 2020 election.

On Saturday night, Joe Biden took the stage in his home state of Delaware to address the country as the new president-elect of the United States. Jogging - not walking - out to Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own”, Biden applauded the historic voter turnout of this year’s election: “I am proud of the coalition we put together, the broadest and most diverse in history. Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. (…) White. Latino. Asian. Native American.” And while mentioning this coalition fits into Biden’s broader agenda of restoring an instinct for shared responsibility in Washington - their alleged support does not hold up to the election statistics.

Even as Democrats ran up big numbers among suburban and college-educated voters, their support among voters of color and, in particular, the Latino community, eroded. Take Georgia, for example: While Hillary Clinton took the swing state with a lead of 40 percentage points among Latino voters in 2016, this lead has shrunk to only 16 points for Biden. Other swing states, such as Ohio and Florida, follow the same pattern. (Interestingly, Arizona poses an exception to the trend, as pointed out by The Intercept).

Given the prominence of “Trump as a white supremacist” narratives over the past years, one question the Biden Administration will need to answer is: Why did so many Latino voters stray away from the party in 2020 - and, instead, voted Republican? Democrats have long insisted that the future of American politics lies in increasingly educated, multiracial Sun Belt cities such as Atlanta, Houston, and Phoenix. However, the observed voting pattern among Latinos holds out a new possibility: That the nation “could become less white without becoming much less conservative” as Benjamin Wallace-Wells points out in the “New Yorker”.

And that, instead, the post-Trump Republican party could evolve into a working-class party embracing socially conservative policies that do not predominantly attract white, but also multiracial vote. Florida is already a case in point - a state with a large immigrant community that Trump has won twice and where Republicans have held the governor’s mansion since 1999. On Tuesday night, Trump’s support among Latinos, specifically Cuban Americans, helped him win Miami-Dade County, the most populous in Florida. Exit polls found that Biden won a little over half of Latino voters in the state, down from Clinton’s 62 percent.

As Christian Paz writes in “The Atlantic”. Liberals may easily accuse these Latinos of voting against their own interests, “given Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic, attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and restrictions on immigration – all issues that affect millions of Latino lives.” Moreover, Trump’s constant demagoguery on immigration policy, his irrational hostility towards people of Latin American ancestry and his broader musings about “shithole countries”, lets this voting behavior appear even more contradictory.

However, it only does so based on the assumption that Latino primarily denotes an ethnic category, while it might actually provide an apt description of economic circumstance, as Matthew Yglesias argues in a piece for “Vox”. The election results hint towards the fact that among the Latino community class affiliation outweighed racial identity. In the election results, the imprint of class was, if anything, clearer than it had been four years ago. Voters without college degree continued to slide toward Republicans, and those with college degree towards the Democrats.

Trump won the votes of Floridians with a campaign that focused heavily on his opposition to the democratic-socialist left - to Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who Republicans claimed would set a Biden Administration’s economic agenda. This emphasis builds on a larger theme that Trump has relied on in his speeches at Latino roundtables and visits to Arizona and Florida: the specter of socialism and an encroaching federal government oppressing the individual. And although now-dumped Trump himself has stretched executive-branch authority beyond bounds more than once, he championed a small-government agenda on several issues the Latino community cares about: Cutting business regulations, making it easier for Latinos to attend charter schools, providing ample room for religious practice in the public and private spheres.

“It would be a mistake to assume that as the ranks of liberal-leaning Latinos grow, the cohort voting for the Republicans will not”, as Paz writes in “The Atlantic”. These voters will continue to play an influential role in determining Latino identity, political influence - and economic policy. This process though will surely not be without surprises or even seeming contradictions. Again, Florida might be the case in point: On election night, the same time as Biden fell short, Floridians supported a minimum-wage ballot initiative with over 60 percent of the vote.

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