Joe Biden won Massachusetts handily in the presidential election, but President Donald Trump did better than a lot of people were expecting in communities with large Latinx populations, including cities like Lawrence and New Bedford. GBH All Things Considered host Arun Rath discussed the Latinx vote with UMass Boston Political Science Professor Luis Jiménez, with the college's Gaston Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy Publications. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Arun Rath: I want to make sure that our framing of this is correct. Did Donald Trump really do dramatically better than Republicans traditionally have with Latinos in Massachusetts?
Prof. Luis Jiménez: I wouldn't say dramatically better, but yes. In what we call the Latino electorate, yes he did. But I want to point out that the numbers that we're talking about are relatively small. For instance, in Lawrence, which you mentioned, which is 80 percent Latino, he got 10 percent better. We're talking about 2,000 votes' difference. So he did better percentage-wise, absolutely, but these numbers are not huge.
Rath: Even stipulating that it's not huge, were you surprised at all to see that?
Jiménez: I was. And I think a lot of the reason why people are surprised is because of this picture that we have with Donald Trump, where he started with anti-immigrant rhetoric, anti-Mexican rhetoric. He has made it a point to say things that seem to be very offensive to Latinos. I think that's part of the reason why we're so concerned, or why this narrative has come out.
But I want to point out that I think for the Latinos that voted for him, because we are not a monolith — which you probably have been hearing a lot recently — some of these Latinos that are hearing this is to them, they're not part of, they don't consider themselves immigrants. And therefore, Trump saying anything about anti-immigration or anti-Latinos, they simply do not think he's talking about them. So I think that's part of the explanation. And the other explanation, too, is that there's an aspirational component to this, which is that people that might be Latino that do not think, again, that he's talking about them. Also, that they want to be American, and that's it. There's this narrative that they should be Cuban American or Mexican American, or whatever else.
Rath: I want to bring this down even further. As you said, the Latin community is not a monolith. It's a really, it's kind of a difficult term to handle. It's like Asian American — we're talking about so many different countries of ethnic origin and many generations, as you're saying. Break it down as much as you can. Could you break down the communities, the genders, the age groups where the president may have done better compared to others?
Jiménez: The people that he did better with are Cubans and Venezuelans and Colombians. We know that from Florida. Also, I think, as I've looked at the data, he seems to have done better in Massachusetts with those people, too. The problem is those numbers are very small in Massachusetts. So he also did better — again, the numbers are small — but he did seem to be doing better with Dominicans in Puerto Rico.
And the other reason why this might be, I think, it could be because of education. There seems to be an educational component to this. I think, because — just like with the rest of the electorate — there has been this division, very clear division in the Trump era, where college educated individuals tend to have gone for the Democrats. This seems to have happened to some extent with Latinos. Obviously not as dramatically, but there does seem to be some non-college Latinos who are moving in that direction.
Rath: Even for people who are first generation immigrants, I mean, I know something that I've witnessed firsthand is that there could be a certain strain of conservatism for people who have chosen this country, right? This attitude of, even more my country, right or wrong. Is that something that you were seeing in some of these communities that may be turning more towards President Trump than they did four years ago?
Jiménez: Absolutely. People talk in the literature about assimilationist attitudes, and these assimilationist attitudes are basically what you just mentioned. People that, once they cross the bridge, if you will, feel a need to belong. One way to signal their belonging is to say, I'm going to support this person who is very "America first" and all of these things. And so it's a way to signal that kind of assimilationist idea.
Rath: You were the coauthor of a report in September called The Latino Vote in Massachusetts. Talking more broadly along those lines, what were some of the major findings there?
Jiménez: The major findings are that Latinos as a group voted at a much higher rate than we had expected.
For a long time, Latinos nationally and in Massachusetts had been voting at a lower rate, comparably speaking, to other groups — compared to whites, compared to Blacks. And so what we found is that this rate seems to have had an uptick in 2018. And I speculated in that, because we were trying to figure out why this might be, this was important, because if you recall in 2018, there were not particularly competitive races. And so people voted, I think, because there must have been some other reason.
One of the reasons I think that made people mobilize is actually the Trump effect. I do think that people felt the need to express their rejection. And so this Trump effect, I think, has a mobilizing component on both sides. That is that Latinos are not a monolith. And so for some individuals, it mobilizes them because it makes them think, I am part of this group and I want to show people that the president is insulting me. And then at the same time, other people feel the opposite.
Rath: That's a fascinating way to think about what we've just been talking about before that, which is that it sounds like more Latinos are voting, so if they're there and in larger numbers, a small shift like we were just talking about over national numbers could have a larger impact.
Jiménez: That's right. And one of the things I am really excited about is precisely that. Whatever happens, in this election, the Latino electorate showed up. We're talking about it right now because in Florida and Texas and so on, in Arizona and Nevada, they made a splash. So I'm hopeful that the political parties, both parties, will continue to consider them and try to mobilize them.
Rath: What would you say that Democrats or Republicans, for that matter, need to do to maybe build on this if they want to improve their support in Massachusetts among Massachusetts Latinx communities?
Jiménez: This is a complicated question that I think we haven't figured out exactly, precisely because the Latino electorate is so diverse. But at the very minimum, what you need are people not just that might speak Spanish — although that's nice, but that's not the main thing — you need people that are Latino, that understand the communities, that come from their communities, that can speak to them and don't sound like they're coming from far away or don't understand the needs of the community.
I think authenticity in some way is probably the most important variable, but getting that authenticity is difficult because the electorate is so diverse. So in my case, for instance, I am Mexican American. If I went to Florida, for instance, I don't think I would be able to communicate as effectively as I would maybe in Texas. That's difficult to maintain and difficult to reach.
But the other thing that I think is important is also to have messages that appeal to them that are not insulting. And that's also hard to do because that comes off sometimes when people don't know the communities that they're talking to. There's a lot of debate about, for instance, about the term "Latinx." Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego in Arizona said something about not using the term Latinx. It's complicated, because it's true that most people do not use that term. But for some individuals, that's important. And so again, we come back to this sort of balancing act where you're trying to appeal to a large group and you're not trying to offend, but you do sometimes — just because it's a very diverse electorate.