Joe Biden’s performance with Hispanic voters will make-or-break his chances in these 3 battleground states

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Latinos vote at a polling station in El Gallo Restaurant on November 8, 2016 in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles, California. In addition to choosing between Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton for President of the United States, Californians are deciding on 17 ballot propositions.
  • Latino voters are expected to make up the largest minority voting bloc in the country for the first time this presidential election. 
  • That political influence will be especially important in key swing states Florida, Arizona and Texas, which President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are both vying to win.
  • Biden has trailed behind Trump in some polling out of Florida among Hispanic voters, but performed better in Arizona and Texas.
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For the first time this year, Latinos are expected to be the largest racial minority in a US presidential election — wielding a significant voice that could decide the race in major battleground states. 

A record 32 million Latinos are projected to be eligible to vote in 2020, comprising 13.3% of total eligible voters in the US, up from 12.8% in the 2018 midterms and 11.9% in the 2016 elections.

The electorate has also headed to the polls at historic rates in recent years, a sign of their growing political influence. Turnout among Hispanic voters more than doubled in 2018 versus the 2014 midterm elections, the single largest increase on record from one election to another, according to Pew Research Center. 

Hispanic voters were also more likely than other racial groups to cast their ballots early and by mail in 2018, two key voting methods that are anticipated to be heavily used during the coronavirus pandemic this year. 

Though the demographic has long been difficult for experts to accurately predict voting patterns — as the bloc is by no means a monolithic, differing in party preference, geography, ethnicity, among several other variables. Broadly, Hispanic voters in the West, like California and Nevada, tend to lean blue whereas those in parts of the South, like Florida, tilt red.

This makes their civic engagement especially important in 2020, particularly in swing states where they comprise large swaths of the voting population: 30% in Texas, 24% in Arizona and 20% in Florida — and where President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival former Vice President Joe Biden are vying to win to secure the White House. 

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President Donald Trump walks into Trump International Golf Club before a Super Bowl party February 3, 2019 in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Florida

The pathway for a Biden presidency is not dependent on winning Florida, but a victory in the Sunshine State will determine the ease in which Biden can ascend to the Oval Office. 

While Biden is currently leading Trump in state-level polling, an NBC News/Marist Florida survey between Aug. 31 through Sept. 6 shows Trump leading Biden 50% to 46% among Hispanic voters.

In marked difference to the other battleground states, Biden has failed to energize Hispanic voters, widely considered key to winning the state. Florida is home to nearly two-thirds of the nation's 1.2 million eligible Cuban-American voters, who were about twice as likely to vote for Trump in 2016 than non-Cuban Latinos in the state.

The political divide can likely be traced to Cuban-Americans' preference for Republican messaging around "socialism," as many have are from families that fled the communist-socialist state to the US, particularly to South Florida. Trump has capitalized on reaching out to such voters by slapping Biden with a "socialist" label, though the former vice president is widely known to not hold those values. 

While Trump narrowly won the state in 2016, it's well known for swinging back and forth electorally. Florida voted for Democratic President Barack Obama for his two elections in 2008 and 2012, but voted for Republican President George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.

A recent survey of Bendixen & Amandi International and the Miami Herald shows that among Miami-Dade County, Biden currently holds a 17-percentage point lead over Trump among all voters. However, in that same survey, Biden is trailing Trump by one percent among Hispanic voters, and significantly lagging behind Trump among Cuban-American voters, in a 68-30% split. 

In 2016, Trump lost to Hillary Clinton in Miami-Dade by 30 points, but still won the state as a whole by 1.2 percent of the total vote. Biden is more than likely going to win Miami-Dade County, but his support from the Latino communities in the rest of the state will ultimately make-or-break his chances in Florida.

Arizona

Arizona, a traditional Republican stronghold, has emerged as a wild card for 2020 — partly due to the rise in Hispanic voters shifting the scene purple, with 1.2 million eligible this year.

The county considered most crucial to capture the whole state, Phoenix's Maricopa County, covers mainly white suburbs which Trump fared well with four years ago, but has seen this demographic change play out since. 

So far, Biden has tied or held a slight advantage over Trump in statewide polls, indicating potential that he could win the state. His performance can be owed to his rising favorability among Latinos, with likely voters reporting 69% support, versus the 61% that Clinton gained, according to a CBS poll in July.

Hispanic voters in the state have said they do not resonate with Republican hard-line talking points on issues such as immigration, and notably, are increasingly aligned with Democrats' policies on health care.

If Biden wins the Grand Canyon state, he would become the first Democratic presidential candidate to do so in three decades. The former vice president has been attempting to build off of blue-wave momentum that sprouted during the 2018 midterms, in which four Democratic candidates won in the state, and is relying on the Hispanic vote to do so.

Biden's position remains precarious though, as Trump carried the state by 3.5 percentage points in 2016, and is bidding to gain all 11 electoral votes again this year. 

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Joe Biden, Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and former vice president, meets with families who have benefited from the Affordable Care Act and delivers remarks on June 25, 2020.

Texas

While Texas has not voted for a Democratic president since President Jimmy Carter in 1976, the state is slowly shifting from red to purple. A large part of that is due to a demographic change and rise in voting-eligible Hispanic Texans. 

Texas has the second-highest number of eligible Hispanic voters in the US, at 5.6 million, behind California's 7.9 million.

An August survey of 846 registered voters by the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation, Rice University's Baker Institute, and YouGov reported that Latino Texans preferred Biden over Trump in a 47-38 percentage point split. 

The same survey also showed Biden winning with Hispanic families which speak Spanish in the home. Hispanic families which speak English in the home, however, prefer Trump by a small margin.

Winning Texas may still be a longshot for Biden — even with the support of Texas' large Latino communities. Decision Desk HQ reportedly has Biden's overall chances of beating Trump at 38.6%. For Biden to win the state as a whole, he must win over Texas' traditionally conservative suburbs as well.

Jason Villalba, the president of the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation and a former Republican member of the Texas House of Representatives, told the Houston Public Media that Hispanic support for Trump has risen since Nov. 8, 2016. 

"Trump in the last cycle ended up getting about 32% of Hispanics and now we're seeing his numbers creep up to 37%, 38% — which is better than both McCain and Romney were able to achieve," said Villalba.

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