The current poll of President Donald Trump’s general elections is lousy, putting him at around 9 percentage points in the general election averages, which is a deficit too big for the peculiarities of each state to matter. That drop in the polls includes the evaporation of modest gains with African-American voters who were visible last year, and substantial defections from the large bloc of older white voters who were very solidly in the Trump camp in 2016.
But the decline has not been seen across the board. As Domenico Montanaro reported in his NPR polls on the race, “The only group Biden continues to perform poorly with is Latinos: 59% of Latinos said they would vote for Biden on Trump, but Clinton won 66% of her votes in 2016. ”
Trump’s relative resistance to Latino voters may be easy to overlook because he is losing these voters by a wide margin (39 points according to the New York Times). Still, he’s losing them for less than he did in 2016, which is strange at a time when their numbers are dwindling.
The Democrats’ basic assessment is not that this reflects a sudden shift to the right in Hispanic opinion, but the fact that Senator Bernie Sanders was by far the choice of the Latino community in the primaries, and the campaign of the Former Vice President Joe Biden has so far not made the kind of significant investment in the community that Latino Democrats would like to see.
“Familiarity is the best reason,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), who represents one of the largest claws of Hispanic voters in the Phoenix district, tells me. “Most of them will come back, but you have to spend money on them.”
The most interesting thing about Biden’s relatively soft numbers with this demographic is how parallel the two lingering problems Democrats worry about the electorate. Despite decades in politics, the former vice president is not as clearly defined in the public mind. And despite high unemployment, Trump’s approval of the economy is still on positive ground. According to a New York Times poll, Trump’s approval rating in the economy is five points above water, and a Pew poll earlier this week said that voters prefer Trump as economic manager by 3 points.
Biden’s poor performance with Latinos is not enough to change the election the way things are now. The question is whether these economy-focused voters are a canary in the coal mine for what might seem like a Trump comeback.
Biden’s numbers with Latinos are surprisingly smooth
Biden’s performance among Latino voters is a controversial issue among Democrats. Some, especially those who rely on Clinton’s higher estimates of vote cast provided by teams like the Catalyst and Latina Decisions, see Biden clearly behind Clinton. Others who rely on lower estimates from Pew and elsewhere see their current results as likely even with hers.
These estimates are always controversial in part because Hispanic identity is somewhat mutable and difficult to pin down. And, as one pollster told me, “it’s a small group, so you get more noise” in the data.
However, there is broad agreement among the methodologies, however, that Biden has fallen a little short with Latinos, regarding his rise among the white electorate. And specialists think they know why.
“Latinos don’t have a very strong opinion about who [Biden] it is, “explains Stephanie Valencia, co-founder of Equis Research.
His group’s surveys include detailed state-by-state breakdowns, so they can examine small but important populations, such as Latino communities in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Her work confirms that Biden’s numbers, while good, do not show the same kind of large increase in support that she is seeing with white voters. There’s also a substantial gender gap, with Latinas showing far more support for the Democratic candidate than their male counterparts. But, Valencia says, “We are not seeing any increases, even among Hispanic men for Trump,” as much as a very large bloc of uncommitted voters who would like to see Democrats put significant money in the races.
The other factor helping Trump among Hispanic voters is that they are, or at least were, earlier this spring, open to Trump’s argument that electoral attention should focus on the economy rather than the coronavirus.
Biden has two major vulnerabilities
In early June, two political scientists, David Broockman and Joshua Kalla, published an article detailing the results of an experiment on messages around Trump and Biden.
They took a sample of 291 messages, some pro-Trump, some anti-Trump, some pro-Biden, and some anti-Biden, and subjected a sample of 131,742 people to a random selection of two messages each of the 291.
They found that “positive and negative messages about Biden have significantly greater effects on declared vote choice than positive or negative messages about Trump.” Furthermore, even the small impact of Trump’s messages can be a kind of statistical illusion. There are two other points of particular interest:
- Biden-specific messages are more effective than vague messages.
- The anti-Trump messages did not change the intention to vote despite the fact that they were often effective in changing Trump’s perceptions on the specific subject of the announcement.
For Broockman and Kalla, this research shows that there is a type of saturation effect on voters. It’s not that you can’t tell people anything new about Trump, it’s just that telling them new things doesn’t make a difference right now about whether they support him or not. By contrast, new information about Biden changes the votes. Unite the Country, a Super PAC originally created to support Biden in the primaries, has accepted this message and recently began issuing pro-Biden ads that have so far been rare in the mix of Democratic independent spending.
But Priorities USA, who was the top Democratic Super PAC of the 2016 race and who has generally overshadowed Unite the Country since Biden emerged as the clear candidate, disagrees with that assessment. For Priorities, the key fact is that the campaign is a dynamic battleground that the advertising landscape is constantly shaping and reshaping.
“In the week following the declaration of a national emergency, [Trump’s] approval increased by 10 percentage points, ”says Priorities USA director of analysis Nick Ahamed. “So we stepped in to shape voter perceptions that it was Trump’s fault.”
The good news for Biden is that the effort has worked. The public’s assessment of Trump’s Covid-19 response is now sad, and with the pandemic of most voters, the president’s overall vote has plummeted. Their concern is that while the public is currently not very focused on the economy, voters generally continue to give Trump an advantage there. So if the economy becomes an even more prominent topic for the fall, Trump could have a real shot at a rebound.
Economy-focused voters like Trump
In Equis polls, a key factor in the Hispanic gender gap is that Latinos were much more likely than Latinas to express concern about the economy compared to concern about getting sick.
Trump’s great hope of winning the election is that polls show that the public still has confidence in his economic management.
A June 30 Pew poll showed Biden with an advantage in managing race relations, criminal justice issues, and the public health impact of the coronavirus pandemic. But Trump had a three-point advantage in making good decisions about economic policy. In the New York Times poll, which was generally disastrous for Trump, “his approval rating is still very positive on the issue of the economy, with 50 percent of voters giving him favorable ratings compared to 45 percent. percent that says otherwise. “
Trump’s problem is that a clear majority of voters is focused on other things. The exception to that are Latino men, whom Trump is ill-positioned to win over because of his position as the candidate for white backlash against Latin American immigration. But Trump is doing better than expected with this slice of the electorate, signaling a possible resurgence in the president’s support among older white voters who are a better cultural option for him, but are currently focused on the threat of the coronavirus.
It seems likely that the change in the epicenter of the outbreak to Florida and the southwest will increase concern about Covid-19 among Latino voters and remove Trump’s strength there. But the most important lesson is not so much about Hispanic voters as the extent to which Biden’s strong position in the polls is potentially a hostage to the news environment. As long as voters don’t explicitly view economic problems as Trump’s fault, he hopes for a resurgence of fortune.
Democrats have more to do to close the sale.
The tedious and common sense resolution of the dispute between Broockman / Kalla and Priorities USA is that successful campaigns run both positive and negative ads plus “contrast” ads that combine both. In practice, Priorities continues to test all forms of ads while relying on a division of labor, hoping that the Biden campaign will invest in defining Biden while perhaps focusing more on Trump.
Biden’s position with Hispanic voters, however, would undoubtedly benefit from directed and sustained investment.
But the most interesting thing about Biden’s pocket of weakness here is the extent to which it reflects rather generic strategic vulnerabilities. Biden is well known but is not clearly defined. And precisely because it is so well known, it did not generate the burst of free bio-focused media coverage that would have been seen by a fresher option. That creates the possibility that Trump’s sustained attacks will reduce Biden’s numbers, but also an opportunity for a positive introduction to push them further.
As far as we can tell, the attention of voters in the economy helps Trump, and that is true even of demographic groups that are not predisposed to be favorable to him. If economic problems become more relevant to white voters than to Latino voters, Trump may be in a position to return. That’s why recent Democratic publicity has focused on remembering Biden’s role as administrator of the 2009 Recovery Act, and on connecting the dots between the failure of the Trump coronavirus response and the country’s economic crisis. For now, however, that deal has not been sealed and Biden’s leadership, while great, rests on the somewhat shaky foundation of an audience that is not yet very focused on economic issues.
Support Vox explanatory journalism
Every day at Vox, our goal is to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience worldwide, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is right now: empowering you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism requires resources, particularly during a pandemic and economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but will allow our staff to continue offering free articles, videos and podcasts with the quality and volume required at this time. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.