Trump scores gains in Miami-Dade, hurting Biden’s odds in Florida

In a recent poll, President Donald Trump trails former Vice President Joe Biden by 17 percentage points in Miami-Dade County. He lost to Hillary Clinton in 2016 in the same county by 30 percentage points.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden pauses during a backyard meeting in Lancaster, Pa., Monday, Sept. 7, 2020.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden pauses during a backyard meeting in Lancaster, Pa., Monday, Sept. 7, 2020. [ CAROLYN KASTER | AP ]
Published Sept. 8, 2020

Four years after getting trounced in Miami-Dade County by Hillary Clinton, President Donald Trump has increased his odds of victory in his must-win home state on Nov. 3 by improving his standing in Florida’s most populous county, according to a poll by Bendixen & Amandi International and the Miami Herald.

The poll of 500 likely Miami-Dade voters, released Tuesday, found Trump far behind Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden 38 percent to 55 percent in Miami-Dade, where Democrats typically need to run up the score in order to compete in statewide races.

That 17-point deficit is well outside the poll’s 4.4 percentage point margin of error. But Trump doesn’t need to win Miami-Dade. He just needs to do better in the Democratic-leaning county to offset possible losses in other parts of Florida.

In 2016, he lost Miami-Dade to Hillary Clinton by 30 points — about 290,000 votes — but won the state by 1.2 percent of the total vote.

“If you’re the Biden campaign, looking at these numbers, I think there’s reason for pause,” said Fernand Amandi, the Miami-based pollster and Democratic strategist behind the poll. “If Biden under-performs in what should be one of his strongest counties — and is certainly the largest county for Democratic votes in the state of Florida — it might imperil his chances of winning Florida unless there is a massive white voter exodus from Trump in other parts of the state.”

The Bendixen & Amandi poll — conducted Sept. 1 to Sept. 4 — wasn’t all bad news for the former vice president. Biden led Trump, 51 percent to 33 percent among Miami-Dade County’s independent voters and 48 percent to 44 percent among white voters. Biden was also winning 16 percent of Republicans.

But the poll found the former vice president splitting Hispanic voters with Trump, with Trump at 47 percent and Biden at 46 percent. Those numbers — based on smaller polling subsets with larger margins of error — are driven by Trump’s increased support among conservative leaning Cuban-Americans, who supported Trump over Biden in the poll by a crushing 38 points. Just eight years ago, those voters roughly split their votes between Republican nominee Mitt Romney and former President Barack Obama.

“Democrats are potentially leaving Cuban votes on the table that they won in the past, which could very well make a difference in a state as tight as Florida,” said Amandi, whose firm produced Spanish-language ads for the 2012 Obama campaign.

The poll comes as Trump and Biden head into the final stretch to win Florida, where most public statewide polls show Biden with a small lead.

Latino voters have emerged as a key swing voting bloc in recent elections. Two years ago, margins among Puerto Ricans in Central Florida and Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade helped swing razor-tight elections in favor of Republicans in races for governor and U.S. Senate.

Since then, several polls have found the Democratic nominee struggling to match Clinton’s 2016 numbers among Florida Latinos. A poll of 1,000 Florida Hispanic voters released last week by the Democratic Latino research firm Equis Research showed Biden with a 16-point lead statewide among registered Hispanic voters. Exit polls from 2016 found that Clinton won Florida Hispanics by 27 points.

Trump’s gains among Miami-Dade’s Hispanic voters are due in large part to his success in winning over Cuban-Americans, who in 2016 remained somewhat leery of him following his primary defeat of Miami’s Cuban-American U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Since becoming president, Trump has paid several visits to Miami to talk about socialism, including his 2017 trip to Little Havana to sign a presidential memo toughening the federal government’s stance on Cuba’s communist government. He also chose Miami for the launch of his Latinos for Trump campaign coalition, featuring Florida’s Cuban-American Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez as co-chairwoman.

Mercedes Schlapp, a Cuban-American from Miami and senior adviser to the Trump campaign, said she is “not surprised” by the popularity of Trump’s “pro-worker, anti-socialism record.” She referred to Biden’s campaign as an “unmitigated arroz con mango” — a sticky situation — “of leftist policies and alliances” with politicians such as Democratic socialist U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“With that kind of an agenda, it’s no wonder that so many fellow Cuban Americans, Colombians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans are rejecting his Trojan horse candidacy,” Schlapp said.

Biden, meanwhile, has at times been criticized for doing too little to win over Florida Latinos. But his campaign just bolstered its stable of Hispanic advisers in Florida and in recent weeks released a Spanish-language digital ad featuring Puerto Rican trap singer Bad Bunny and TV commercials criticizing, among other things, Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats have also consistently attacked Trump as a “caudillo,” a term used to describe Latin American strongmen.

Biden also recently conducted an interview aired on Spanish-language TV in Miami, as did his running mate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, who will be in Miami Thursday for an in-person campaign event for Biden.

“Joe Biden is ready to lift up Hispanic communities to reach their full potential, whether by fighting for the success of our small businesses or ensuring access to quality, affordable health care,” Biden spokesman Kevin Muñoz said in a statement. “As Hispanic voters continue to lean in more on this race, their support for Joe Biden will continue to grow.”

Biden likely doesn’t need to match Clinton’s numbers in Miami-Dade to win Florida, given that there’s evidence Trump’s support has slipped elsewhere in the state. But stronger support among Cuban-Americans would help him, and Amandi said Trump appears to be “out-hustling” Biden to win Cuban-American voters in Miami.

Amandi also said the poll’s findings that two-thirds of all respondents who chose to conduct their interviews in Spanish support Trump suggests that Biden “hasn’t yet successfully made the case” for Hispanic voters to support him.

“There’s still time,” said Amandi. “But the idea that you would want to start with less support than in previous cycles in a county instrumental to the Democrats’ chances of capturing Florida is reason, I think, for concern.”