Biden doesn't have a problem with Hispanics — he has one with Hispanic men

©Miami Herald

Matthew Hill, 10, participates in a Cubans Con Biden caravan at Bright Park in Hialeah, Florida on Saturday, September 19, 2020. - MATIAS J. OCNER/Miami Herald/TNS

Sandra and Benny Chande have been happily married for 33 years, emigrated from Uruguay in the 1980s, and share a fanatical devotion to the Miami Dolphins.

But Benny, 60, said there are two subjects the couple, who live in Weston, Florida, don’t debate at home: sports, because they root for the same team. And politics, because they couldn’t agree less.

Sandra, who is 54 and has voted for Democrats since the 1990s, said she’s “praying to all the saints” that Joe Biden wins in November.

“I would vote for a rock to oust Trump,” she said, citing his pejorative comments about Hispanics and immigrants.

Benny, meanwhile, has been a Republican ever since Ronald Reagan’s presidency. He thinks President Donald Trump tweets too much and should be more tolerant, but plans to support him because of his handling of the economy.

“I vote Republican with my eyes closed,” Benny said.

In 2020, Sandra and Benny Chande are far from the only Hispanic man and Hispanic woman to see the election in starkly different ways.

As Democrats are nervous that Biden is faring poorly with Hispanic voters, especially among Cuban Americans, veteran pollsters and Latino experts say the Democratic nominee’s problems are disproportionately concentrated among Hispanic men — a group of voters who don’t consider themselves to be strongly supportive of Trump, but are willing to overlook potential flaws for economic reasons.

The gender gap is an often overlooked nuance they say should shape both campaigns’ understanding of the Hispanic vote entering the final weeks of the race, and one that could ultimately swing the outcome between Biden and Trump in Florida and other critical battleground states.

“The gender gap has been one of the largest findings that we have uncovered in our polling over the last year,” said Stephanie Valencia, the co-founder of Equis Research, a firm that specializes in surveys of Latino voters.

Valencia emphasized that although Biden performs better with Hispanic women, his campaign still has work to do to make sure they turn out to vote.

But the potential that a significant portion of Hispanic men could vote for Trump is real, Equis’ research shows. In a series of battleground state polls of Hispanic voters, it found a sizable gender gap, with majorities of male Hispanics supporting Biden overall but indicating far more openness to Trump.

In the swing state of Arizona, for example, an Equis poll found that 40% of Latinos indicated they would support Trump, compared to 55% who said they’d back Biden. Latinas, meanwhile, supported Biden by a 69% to 19% split, an astounding 35-point difference between the genders.

In North Carolina, Equis found a similar 34-point gap, and in Nevada, it found a 23-point gap. In each of the trio of presidential battlegrounds, only 20% or less of Hispanic women said they’d back Trump — while about one-third or more of men said they’d support him.

The gap was smaller in Florida, where the Cuban American vote makes up a larger share of the overall Hispanic electorate than other states. But even there, men supported Biden (50% to 40%) at a significantly lower rate than women (56% to 35%)

“For so long, we didn’t look at a gender divide with Hispanics,” said Michelle Mayorga, who conducted the polls for Equis. “We looked at them as a monolith.”

Over the last decade, the gender gap among white voters has received a considerable amount of attention from strategists and pundits, as men move toward the Republican Party and women shift toward the Democratic Party. That dynamic has only intensified in the Trump era.

Among Hispanics, however, that split has flown largely under the radar, even as pollsters say that it’s arguably the most important demographic divide within that community.

“It’s really only the gender gap where Hispanics act more like white voters than like a minority group traditionally more aligned with Democrats,” said Chris Wilson, a GOP pollster who has worked for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott.

Wilson’s own polling, he added, shows a slightly larger gap among Hispanic voters than White voters.

The reasons Hispanic men are more open to Trump are myriad, pollsters say. Compared to Hispanic women, they are less likely to be repelled by the president’s rhetoric, don’t see his position on immigration as a deal-breaker, and are not very ideologically liberal to begin with.

But their relative support for Trump is mostly rooted, they say, in a belief that the president has boosted an economy that can help them find high-paying jobs.

“Hispanic men don’t like Trump, but they are open to Republicans on the economy,” Mayorga said.

Trump has made an economic pitch central to his reelection campaign, even after the pandemic left millions of people at least temporarily unemployed. Polls show that some voters, including some Hispanics, disapprove of the president’s performance overall but still think he would do a better job handling the economy than Biden.

It’s a message that has resonated with voters like Edward Santiago, a 49-year-old from South Florida who describes himself as a “lifelong moderate Republican.” In 2016, he voted Republican across the ballots but did not cast a vote for president.

But Santiago, who is Puerto Rican, said that he is “not a Trump supporter per se,” but that he is “90% sure” he’ll cast his ballot for the president. He thinks Trump has a better position on taxes, citing the 2017 legislation he signed into law that reduced corporate and individual taxes. It’s enough of a reason to back Trump even though the voter concedes that some of the things Trump does are “repugnant.”

“I think he has a better platform on the economy than Joe Biden does,” Santiago said.

Some Hispanic Democratic officials say that when Trump hypes the economy, some of their male counterparts are drawn to it because they hope they can achieve the same level of personal success that the president has. But because Trump’s vision is often hyper-masculinized, in their view, it’s not effective at attracting support from women.

“They’re selling success, right?” said Joe Garcia, a former Democratic congressman from Florida. “And they’re selling a mutated, macho-istic, celebrity version of success, which is the same thing Donald Trump is selling to white trash across the country. Look at me, I’m a billionaire, I married my mistress and I still have a family.”

Democratic officials like Valencia and Mayorga say that although Hispanic men are thus far supporting Trump at higher rates than they’d like, Biden’s campaign should still aggressively pursue their votes through November.

Mayorga, the pollster, said that because many Hispanic men don’t feel a personal affinity for Trump and in many cases have heard very little about Biden or his policy platform, there’s an opportunity for the Democratic nominee to win them back.

“The difference with the gender divide with Latinos — as opposed to the divide we see with Anglos — is that as a whole, Hispanic men are more persuadable,” said Mayorga, citing the president’s pandemic response or details about Biden’s economic agenda as messages that could resonate with Hispanic men. “So we need to be talking to them and communicating with them.”

She emphasized, however, that Democrats still can’t ignore Latinas, who are highly unlikely to support the president but might sit out the election altogether if the Biden campaign fails to reach out to them.

With six weeks before the election, Biden holds a relatively narrow but significant lead over Trump nationally and in key swing states, according to most surveys of the presidential race. That comes even amid concern among some Democrats that he’s underperforming with Hispanic voters overall.

But Valencia says she fears that lead could vanish if Biden starts to lose support among some of the moderate white voters, including seniors and suburbanites, he’s made inroads with and fails to adequately consolidate the Hispanic electorate.

“The margins aren’t comfortable right now for me to feel we can lose white swing voters and still win the election,” she said. “It would make me feel a lot more comfortable if he increased his edge with Hispanics.”

Regardless of the upcoming election, the Chandes stick to their golden rule: No talking about politics at home.

“The secret to not fighting is to not talk about the subject,” said Benny.

Sandra said that she has to resist the urge to talk when the latest news from Washington appears on TV.

“We change the subject,” joked Sandra. “Because if we really got to talk about politics, we would get divorced.”

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©2020 Miami Herald

Elian Rodriguez, 47, center, hands out fliers before the start of a Cubans Con Biden caravan at Bright Park in Hialeah, Florida on Saturday, September 19, 2020. - MATIAS J. OCNER/Miami Herald/TNS
Joe Biden supporters participate in a Cubans Con Biden caravan at Bright Park in Hialeah, Florida on Saturday, September 19, 2020. - MATIAS J. OCNER/Miami Herald/TNS
Kamilah Acebal, 27, waves a Joe Biden and a Cuban flag before the start of a Cubans Con Biden caravan at Bright Park in Hialeah, Florida on Saturday, September 19, 2020. - MATIAS J. OCNER/Miami Herald/TNS