There are many Florida stories to tell from this cycle, but one that’s drawn significant interest is that of the Florida Hispanic vote.
Coming off of the Biden campaign, both of us had our fair share of insight into what was truly hard, honest work into Hispanic outreach in the state. While Biden won a majority of the Latino vote here, the lost ground in South Florida was truly gutting. And, the post-mortems speak to a fundamental truth: Democrats need to rethink how we approach Latino outreach and engagement, from top to bottom.
Thus began our journey of a post-election analysis that we built out to be with a clear intention in mind: drive Democrats away from finger-pointing and toward action. We spoke to dozens of activists, party leaders, elected officials and consultants that know Florida. We talked about what worked, what didn’t work and where we should look to for growth. Coupled with a deep-dive into the polling and precinct data, here’s what we learned.
Let’s start with the facts. Drop-offs in Latino vote from 2016 to 2020 did not lose Florida for President-elect Joe Biden. In Miami-Dade County, changes in Latino voting resulted in an overall net shift of an estimated 109,000 votes toward Trump. Trump won Florida by 371,686. Even shifting every Miami Latino neighborhood back to Hillary Clinton 2016 levels, we would still have lost the state by 250,000.
Second, Trump improved in almost every single corner of Miami-Dade, not just among Hispanic voters. Overall, Trump improved by 205,000 net votes in Miami, and only about half of that growth can be attributable to shifts among Latinos.
Third, driven by strong turnout growth among Puerto Ricans, Orlando and Tampa both saw increases in net votes for the Democrat in 2020 compared to 2016. But those increases could have been much greater had we grown the Latino vote to 75 percent vote share or higher. With concerted investment, Central Florida offers a bright spot and growth opportunity for Florida Democrats with Hispanic voters.
Now, to our conversations. We talked a lot, but we can summarize feedback into three categories: messaging, infrastructure and the philosophical.
If this was a messaging war, we lost it. There are those that believe we didn’t boldly assert or define ourselves and what we stand for, thus leaving us vulnerable to inaccurate socialism claims, boosted by a well-oiled disinformation machine. There are others that feel we fell victim to culture wars and misread Hispanics as more socially liberal in a moment of widespread social unrest and change.
Either way, the problem lays heavily with a disinformation machine that appears to be the Republican strategy moving forward. Disinformation is the primary obstacle we face, but across the board, an effective counter response is to be determined. Infrastructure and coordination were top of mind for many and intrinsically tied to the messaging issue.
Democratic efforts were perceived as either too little or regularly, too late. Infrastructure for year-around organizing, infrastructure for recruiting talent for elected office, infrastructure for year-round paid and earned media programs, infrastructure to coordinate among progressive groups for campaign season.
Third, and perhaps most lofty, campaigns must shift their worldview of running a Florida statewide campaign. What it takes to win what has been called the swingiest of swing states is going to require a different approach. The truth is 2020 Florida isn’t just a 2020 problem.
We have not fielded a senatorial, gubernatorial or presidential win since 2012. So, what now? Based on everything we heard and learned, here’s what we suggest as a launching pad for action. And look, we’re not saying we’ve got it down; we’re saying we need to start somewhere. Let’s start with our message. We need a bold, Florida-specific message to Hispanics.
Our suggestion is to lead with a simple, clear economic message — and leave it at that. There’s also reason to believe it may work; take Hialeah, for example, where Cuban Americans consistently voted over 60 percent in favor of the $15 minimum wage, an extraordinarily populist measure, yet also voted over 65 percent for Trump.
Second, we propose a new organizing and outreach approach, rooted in Florida’s diverse Latino vote and backed by significant time and investment.
Cubanos con Biden, Boricuas con Biden, Colombianos con Biden — these grassroots groups, from their caravanas to their aggressive digital organizing, speak to the innovation and creativity we need to use as a starting point for reimagining our Hispanic outreach and organizing. Imagine if these grassroots were backed by substantial investment and clear metrics of success? Our humble opinion is there’s something here.
Last and admittedly lofty, we must reimagine what it’s going to take to win Florida. The conventional knowledge of what it will take to win Florida doesn’t stand and it’s time for us as Democrats to understand not just the investment needed here, but the time it will take to win more Latinos, including those we need to turnout and those that we need to persuade. And, this means a lot of things, but one thing in particular: multi-million dollar advertising dumps weeks before an election aren’t a strategy.
The truth is there is no time to waste for 2022. If we wait too long, the same old playbook will arise. Our hope more than anything here is to spark conversation and action. As COVID-19 continues to hit our state hard on both the public health and economic front, the need for Democratic legislators is more urgent than ever. But it’s going to take a dramatic shift in worldview to realize this need.
Kevin Munoz was the Florida press secretary for the Biden for President campaign. Before that, he was a regional press secretary and the Nevada press secretary for the Biden for President primary campaign and before that, an Account Executive at SS+K, a political and non-profit advertising agency. He attended Vanderbilt University and is a Florida native.
Matt A. Barreto is president and co-founder of LD Insights, and formerly was the co-founder of the research firm Latino Decisions. He holds a Ph.D. in political science and is also professor of political science and Chicana/o & Central American Studies at UCLA, where he also directs the research center, Latino Policy & Politics Initiative (LPPI) and the UCLA Voting Rights Project (VRP). In 2020 Barreto was hired by the Joe Biden presidential campaign to direct polling and focus group research for Latino voters, and his research was credited with informing critical Latino mobilization efforts in states such as Arizona, Pennsylvania and Nevada, among others.