The Biden campaign’s apparent ignorance of recent Hispanic cultural changes, accompanied by some specific blunders, helped it lose the Sunshine State’s electoral college votes, say communications pros.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s smart Latino-focused messaging turned Florida red last Tuesday.
The resounding Trump/Republican victory in the state has Florida Democrats reeling, according to NPR. It upbraided predictions made by pundits at outlets such as The New York Times and FiveThirtyEight which saw, if not an easy, then at least a very plausible path for Joe Biden in the state.
“Everyone thought it would be a victory lap for Biden, and very easy because everybody hates Trump,” said Manny Ruiz, founder of the Hispanicize Media Group and the Latinx Newswire.
The expectation was for Puerto Ricans to show up strongly for the Democrats as they are the second largest Hispanic electorate behind the Cubans (27% and 29% respectively) given the narrative that they were poorly treated by the administration after Hurricane Maria’s aftermath in 2017, said LLYC’s U.S. CEO Carlos Correcha-Price via email.
The thinking, Correcha-Price added, was that Trump’s response to the hurricane and his anti-immigration stance would help Biden match or beat Hillary Clinton's 2016 results in the state.
However, those assumptions didn’t account for the repeated, focused and precise messaging Trump aimed at the one trait shared by many in Florida’s very diverse Hispanic population, said Jimmie Stone, Edelman’s chief creative officer for New York and Latin America.
“The same common denominator is they are escaping certain situations and realities of their countries and especially certain political points of view,” said Stone. “For me it's surprising that some of this community tilted to Trump knowing that he is seemingly an authoritarian strongman character. At the same time, it’s not surprising at all.”
He added that, for four years, Trump’s campaign repeated a message of “fear of socialism” and connected Biden with it.
“I think that’s the key and the difference: an almost blind fear of socialism made other issues of left and right irrelevant,” Stone said.
For decades, Florida has been known as the home of a strongly anti-communist Cuban community. But other more recent waves of immigrants to Miami also share their values, comms pros say. And Trump’s labelling of Biden and the Democrat party as radicals resonated with these Latino newcomers.
“There’s a shared trauma to a lot of the [Latino community] in Florida and that is from socialism and communist dictatorships,” said Ruiz. “And that shared trauma doesn’t just include Cuban voters. It includes Venezuelans and Colombians. Although [the Colombians] were not in a socialist dictatorship, they have a lot of scars from what happened with left wing politics and the pain it brought there.”
Trump’s messages painting Biden as a radical also worked with Miami’s Nicaraguan population — loyal to Republicans because of Ronald Reagan’s fight against the Sandinista government and his immigration amnesty — and even some Puerto Ricans, Ruiz said.
“Here we have a Republican Party that’s highly organized and very disciplined and very vocal, continually portraying you and your running mate as having sold out to a socialist movement of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” Ruiz said. “Without a really good counter argument to show that you’re absolutely not like that, it doesn’t bode well for you in that state.”
In addition, Ruiz said, the Biden campaign made some very specific errors. The first, he noted, was not distancing itself more concretely from the movement to defund the police. “In Florida, people revere and respect the police and you don’t mess around with police things,” Ruiz said.
The other significant misstep was asking former President Barack Obama to stump for the Biden campaign, Ruiz added.
“He may be a superstar in many other parts of the U.S. But in Miami, one of his last acts in office was being seen hugging and shaking hands with bloody Raul Castro, the president of Cuba,” Ruiz said. “That does not play well in Miami.”
These anti-socialist feelings run deep, as normally conservative Ruiz found out when he came out publicly for Biden.
“A lot of people are attacking me and my ‘liberal entourage,’” Ruiz said. “What we’re seeing in our country, they say they saw in their own country, but in more stark terms. And even people in my own family have called on me not to betray my own.”
But how could Biden’s campaign miss the significant cultural differences in Florida, especially given the repeated accusations it made that Trump was a white supremacist? The campaign probably wasn’t on top of the more recent changes in Florida’s Hispanic community, said Natalie Boden, president and founder of Hispanic communications agency Boden.
“The cultural truth of Venezuelans and Cubans and Nicaraguans in Miami is central here in Florida,” she said. “You have to study the market, not from 10 years ago, but in the last year. Study them continuously to identify those shifts. Yes, there are Cuban Americans, and we all know their history in Miami. But there are also Venezuelans and that is new. You can’t look at Hispanics as a block.”