America’s Political Communities Are More Nuanced Than We Think

Vice President Pence recently stepped off Air Force Two in Orlando, Florida to address a seemingly unlikely group of supporters: Latinos. Though Joe Biden leads Latinos nationally with 65% support, the Trump campaign sees the Latino vote as its path to victory in the Sunshine State.

To understand why requires evaluating how Florida’s electorate differs from the rest of the country’s—and the lessons that can be applied in other states. Though almost two-thirds of Hispanics in the United States are of Mexican origin, they are only a small fraction of Florida’s Hispanic population. Cuban-Americans make up the largest share, followed closely by Puerto Ricans. The Cuban-American community has consistently favored Republican candidates (President Trump currently leads with Cuban-American voters in Miami by over 35%), and Florida’s rapidly-growing Venezuelan, Colombian and Nicaraguan voting blocs are also more conservative than other Hispanic groups in the United States.

Local political strategists have long recognized the impact national origin has on Hispanic voters’ experiences with political issues and their views on the role of government. But differences in national origin are only one division in the Hispanic electorate. Hispanic-Americans have grown more religious in the last decade, and according to Pew, Evangelical Christianity is the fastest-growing religious denomination in the Hispanic community. Divisions by national origin and religious views become even less predictable when looking at different age groups and locations within Florida.

What does this all mean? There’s no singular “Hispanic vote” in Florida, and there certainly isn’t one in the United States either.

National strategies for voter outreach have long oversimplified how voters make decisions based on certain identity characteristics. As the country becomes more diverse and the electorate more complex, campaigns need to rethink how they appeal to voters and what the electorate looks like.

International and domestic migration are driving major shifts in state populations that will shake up the political map. Take overall growth as a starter. According to the Census Bureau, all of the 10 fastest-growing states in America are in the South or West, while Northeastern states have essentially zero or negative growth rates. The New York Times reports that population growth is primarily a combination of international migration, mostly from Latin America, and internal population shifts toward regions with greater job opportunities and more affordable lifestyles.

Candidates who want to win in these states must recognize that these demographic shifts are also changing the political composition of American communities. North Carolina is one of the best examples of this change. Since 2016, over 1.1 million new people have registered to vote in the state. One-third of them identify as Hispanic, most of them live in urban areas, and a larger share were born in California, New York, New Jersey and other states than the previously-registered population. In short, people with different racial, geographic and social backgrounds are mixing together in the same communities like we have not seen in decades.

As America’s population changes, it is going to become harder to isolate specific characteristics that predict how a person will vote, and broad strategies for winning an entire state or region of the country are already becoming outdated.

Our political leaders should use this as an opportunity to better engage their communities and understand the people they represent. Politicians should be open to learning about the issues that matter to voters rather than assuming how and why they will vote.