The president lost, but he did a good deal better with minorities in 2020 than he did in 2016.
Assuming the exit polls are more reliable than the ones that predicted a blue wave, Joe Biden did what he said he would do on Election Day in the upper Midwest—just not how he said he would do it.
In 2016, millions of people in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania who had supported Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 opted to back Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. It was these voters, not the Kremlin or Ku Klux Klan sympathizers, who delivered the White House to Republicans. Mr. Biden’s most compelling argument during the Democratic primary race was that he was far more likely than Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren to win back that voting bloc. It didn’t play out that way.
Mr. Biden flipped Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania not because he won over former Trump supporters but because he turned out Democrats who stayed home four years ago instead of voting for Mrs. Clinton. “Mr. Biden’s success was built on winning majorities of women, suburban voters and Black voters, according to the national AP VoteCast survey conducted Oct. 28 through Election Day evening,” The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week. “Mr. Biden also ran up the score in cities such as Detroit and Milwaukee, where Democratic turnout had lagged four years ago.”
In Pennsylvania, large population centers like the Philadelphia suburbs made the difference, but it “wasn’t just eastern Pennsylvania that boosted Biden,” reported CNBC. “He improved upon Clinton’s margins in the blue counties of Dauphin, where the state capital of Harrisburg sits, and Centre County, which includes Penn State University.”
For liberals who are happy enough to be rid of Mr. Trump, this is a distinction without a difference. But for anyone playing the long game, it’s clear that the president’s brand of Republican populism isn’t going away. For some of us, the most interesting story of the 2020 election is not the Biden victory, which is the one thing that pollsters ultimately got right, but a Trump coalition that has not only endured but grown by more than seven million people in the past four years.
As intriguing is the increasing racial and ethnic diversity of that coalition. The president, who is regularly dismissed in the media as a bigot, saw a small uptick in his support among black and Hispanic voters. The black increase is notable but less impressive when put in context. Between 1976 and 2004, Republican presidential candidates averaged just over 11% of the black vote. John McCain won 4% in 2008 and Mitt Romney 6% in 2012, but they had to run against Barack Obama. In 2016, Mr. Trump, who didn’t have that excuse, managed only 8%, an improvement to be sure, but still below the pre-Obama norm. Mr. Trump’s 4-point increase this year gets him back to the GOP’s traditional share of the black vote.
The president’s performance among Latinos, which jumped to 32% from 28%, is more interesting. He was expected to do well with Florida’s Cuban-Americans, who have a long history of voting Republican, and he won about 55% of their votes. What stands out is his gains among other Latinos, both in Florida and elsewhere. In the Sunshine State, Latino support overall for the president grew by 12 points to 47%, and among Puerto Ricans, who generally lean much more heavily Democratic than Cubans, he won 30%.
Mr. Trump was likewise competitive among Hispanic voters of Mexican and Central American descent in places like Arizona, Nevada and South Texas. In 2016, Starr County, Texas, which abuts the border with Mexico, went for Mrs. Clinton by a 60-point margin. Mr. Biden won it this year by just 5 points. A Republican Party that can build on Mr. Trump’s gains among Hispanics in future elections will give the Democratic Party nightmares.
Black and Hispanic electorates are often grouped together by the media because both tend to be more liberal. Historically, however, they have had very different voting patterns. Blacks typically vote Democratic or stay home, as many did four years ago, while the Hispanic vote is far less one-sided and far likelier to swing. Recall that George W. Bush won more than 40% of Hispanics en route to his second term in 2004. And we’ll never know how much better Mr. Trump might have performed with Hispanics absent his harsh immigration rhetoric.
What these minority groups do have in common, however, is overrepresentation among those hurt economically by the Covid lockdowns. Before the pandemic, both groups were experiencing historically low poverty and unemployment, and their wages were rising. Perhaps Mr. Trump’s focus on reopening the economy and getting people back to work sooner rather than later is what resonated with them.
This piece originally appeared at The Wall Street Journal (paywall)
Photo by Ethan Miller / Getty Images