Minority Power

The Decisive Latino Vote

Erika Jaramillo
Latino voters are turning out in record numbers and could swing this election for Clinton. Source: AP
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Record turnout from Latino voters in key swing states could hand this election to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

  • Facts


    • Some 41 million Americans took the opportunity to vote early, rather than on election day Tuesday.
    • In Florida, twice as many Latinos may cast their vote than in the election four years ago.
    • 18 percent of U.S. citizens have Hispanic roots, 12 percent are African-American.
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Doña Maria Velasquez tediously unlocks 10 locks before she can finally open her door. The 87-year-old lives in Little Havana, once Miami’s stronghold of drugs and crime, as if in a bunker. But the woman, orginally from Cuba, likes to talk with Hillary Clinton’s election campaign workers when they stop by.

“Yes, like always, I go to vote – with my seven women friends,” she says in Spanish. Who are you voting for? “This time Hillary – like all my women friends. Because we Hispanics are done with Trump.”

Many Latinos now think like Doña Maria – and not just in Florida but in western states like Nevada and Arizona – states where particularly large numbers of eligible voters with Latin American roots live.

And if early voting indications are to be believed, Latino voters are the bloc that could decide this election.

“Above all older Cuban-Americans, who have hated the Democrats ever since [John F.] Kennedy’s failed Bay of Pigs invasion ... are now tending to switch to Hillary.”

Ann Walker Marchant, Campaign Volunteer

Particularly alarming for the Republicans is the fact that a total of 41 million Americans have already voted early. There are indications of a particularly high turnout of Latino voters in three important states; above all in Nevada and Florida, where Latinos in both states make up about a fourth of the population.

Experts estimate that in Florida, twice as many Latinos are casting their vote than in the election four years ago. That speaks for a high election turnout. In Nevada, significantly more registered Democrats voted than Republicans.

No one can predict whether this trend will continue Tuesday – the first indications will come from exit polling once the polling stations close in each state. Nevertheless, it is an encouraging sign for Ms. Clinton.

At the moment, the final nationwide polls are speaking in favor of the Democrat candidate. A number of nationwide surveys Monday evening showed a lead of about four percentage points for Ms. Clinton – but with only about half of the eligible voters typically voting, turnout will be critical to the result.

Especially Florida could be decisive in the outcome. Given the all-important electoral college system, if the sunshine state goes to Ms. Clinton, the chances of Mr. Trump winning the 2016 election fall nearly to zero.

If Wednesday is a day of regret for Republicans, this could be the key reason: When a large part of the 150 million Americans eligible to vote cast their ballot today in the presidential elections, Mr. Trump can scarcely count on the support of the largest minority group.

It has become increasingly difficult to win in the home stretch of the election campaign without the support of minorities: 18 percent of U.S. citizens have Hispanic roots, 12 percent are African-American. That makes it extremely difficult for a candidate to make it into the White House without the support of such groups.

Mr. Trump’s focus in this election campaign has been on the ever-dwindling majority – he is leading heavily among white American males. The fear for Republicans is that may no longer be enough.

America’s demographics are changing, and Mr. Trump’s defamatory remarks against Latinos are now becoming a severe handicap for the Republicans. Those remarks began early: He famously painted Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals.” He announced that he would build a wall, 40-50 feet high, on the southern border of the United States. He said a judge born in the United States should recuse himself in a case involving one of his businesses because of his Mexican background.

The irony of the story is that Mr. Trump ensured his nomination in the Republican primaries with that very same populism; one of his toughest opponents at the time was a candidate with Hispanic-American roots – Marco Rubio. But that tactic has backfired in the general election: His smear campaign against Mexicans and other immigrants could seal the victory for Ms. Clinton.

Mr. Trump’s appearance Monday in Sarasota, in the west of Florida, isn’t likely to have contributed much to a reconciliation with Hispanics. Although the candidate did largely refrain from his usual attacks against Mexican immigrants and made jokes about his own hairdo, Mr. Trump didn’t reach out either. Both candidates were sticking to their key messages on the final day. A Trump victory would signal the end of “the corrupt Washington establishment.” “When we win tomorrow, we are going to drain the swamp,” he bellowed at his supporters.

The Democrats, by contrast, have made use of their chances. Ms. Clinton’s vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine, a former governor of Virginia, held the first-ever Spanish-language rally earlier this month. One of Ms. Clinton’s regular lines at rallies is that America builds “bridges,” not walls.

Tim Kaine, Ms. Clinton's vice presidential candidate, is fluent in Spanish.

She’s also displayed great commitment to the sunshine state. To prevent Mr. Trump’s breakthrough in Florida, Ms. Clinton even brought in support from abroad. Seven Britons and 17 Danes are working in the Democratic contender’s campaign offices in Miami. As was the case with Doña Maria, they and their 25 fellow American workers are going from door-to-door and motivating Latinos to vote.

Another new development: Cuban-Americans that have long been a reliable Republican voting bloc may be returning to the Democratic fold.

“Above all older Cuban-Americans, who have hated the Democrats ever since [John F.] Kennedy’s failed Bay of Pigs invasion and have traditionally voted conservative, are now tending to switch to Hillary,” said Ann Walker Marchant, a woman with rose-colored sunglasses, who came from Washington to work in the election campaign with her sister-in-law from Puerto Rico. “That will give us the victory,” she added.

Given Mr. Trump’s unpopularity, Ms. Clinton’s election campaigners are encountering a positive response almost everywhere. Even in business.

Even Jorge Perez, whom they call in Miami the “Trump of the Tropics,” has switched over to Ms. Clinton’s camp. The 67-year-old real-estate king of Miami, of all people, won’t be voting for the Republican.

“A guaranteed no,” as he says. “When you build a 30-foot wall that the Mexican government will pay for, what side of the wall do I get to be on?” Mr. Perez said in a story for the Tampa Bay Times.

Like most Latinos, Mr. Perez, born in Argentina of Cuban parents, could no longer stand the racist slogans — even though he had been a friend and business partner of the New York real-estate tycoon for decades. When Mr. Trump asked for his support, he replied: “’If I support you, there will not be one Hispanic person in southern Florida who will talk to me.”


Mathias Brügmann covers international politics for Handelsblatt. Jens Münchrath  leads Handelsblatt’s weekend edition section. To contact the authors: bruegmann@handelsblatt.com and muenchrath@handelsblatt.com

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