Polls show how Latino voters helped drive Biden win in Nevada, though Trump gained ground since 2016
Early data shows that white voters again heavily backed Donald Trump this cycle, but it's a diverse coalition of younger voters and people of color who helped push Joe Biden over the edge in Nevada and nationwide. Here's a closer look at what polls and experts tell us about turnout trends within different demographics.
After years-long efforts of community organizing and a projected record registration and turnout, Latino voters in Nevada overwhelmingly favored Joe Biden over Donald Trump, though data indicates the president made gains with Nevada Hispanics in his re-election bid.
Nevada has the sixth-largest share of Latino eligible voters of all states in the country, with Hispanic voters making up about 20 percent of the electorate, and Latinos have long been regarded as a voting bloc with the potential to turn elections. Still, they have lower turnout rates than Black or white voters, which community organizers attribute to voter suppression and a lack of long-term and holistic investment from political parties or candidates.
But early data from the 2020 election shows an improvement in turnout of Latino voters, suggesting success in efforts from Nevada's Latino community organizers.
"The success in Nevada was that we saw an opportunity where not just Voto Latino, but dozens of small grassroots organizers had been toiling their life away and making sure that Nevada would continuously be in play," said María Teresa Kumar, president and CEO of Voto Latino, a national organization mobilizing Latino voters. "And it was not an investment of the last minute. But in Nevada … it's been an investment in years."
With Trump's gains among Latino voters across the country, notably in Florida and Texas where Trump won and even in Nevada where Biden prevailed, organizers again pushed back against the myth of a monolithic “Latino vote” and emphasized the need for diverse and targeted outreach after a history of inadequate efforts from campaigns.
Despite pre-election polls showing Trump losing Florida by 2.3 points on average, the president captured the state with 45 percent of Latino voters and in Texas, Trump won 36 percent of the Latino vote, according to data from the AP VoteCast Survey.
Organizers said that outreach across the country from campaigns, though still coming late in the cycle, generally improved this year compared to years past.
"Historically, Latinos are under-mobilized," said Gary Segura, co-founder and senior partner of political research firm Latino Decisions. "Parties and candidates had invested more in white and black voters than they did in Latino voters, but [this year's Latino outreach is] still a lot higher than it has been historically."
In Nevada, Latino voters are estimated to have delivered Biden a net vote advantage of more than two times the margin with which the former vice president won the state overall.
Combining election polls and research from Latino Decisions, Voto Latino estimated that Latino voters in Nevada cast 235,000 ballots. Of those,159,800 were for Biden, and the former vice president had an estimated lead of 89,300 votes over Trump among Latino Nevadans.
The effect of Latino voters in the 2020 election was highlighted in the American Election Eve Poll conducted by political research groups Asian American Decisions, Latino Decisions and the African American Research Collaborative. It showed that Biden won 70 percent of Nevada's Latino vote compared to Trump's 25 percent, helping sway the margin of victory for the Biden campaign.
Still, Biden’s margin was less dramatic than the one seen in 2016.
In Latino Decisions' 2016 Election Eve poll, 81 percent of Latino voters in Nevada reported voting for Hillary Rodham Clinton while only 16 percent reported voting for Trump, showing that in 2020, Trump jumped almost 10 percentage points amongst Latino Nevadans.
The jump comes after the 2020 election cycle focused heavily on the pandemic, health care and the economy whereas immigration — and Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric specifically attacking Latino immigrants — took center stage in 2016.
Trump's 2020 campaign also did targeted outreach to Latino voters with a national series of Latinos for Trump roundtables, including one in Las Vegas, and continuous appeals that the president would bring economic prosperity to the community.
At a roundtable hosted by the progressive group For Our Future, Cecia Alvarado, the Nevada state director of the national Latino civic engagement organization Mi Familia Vota, said that the Trump campaign used Latino culture and values against the Latino community.
“The Trump campaign attacked our community with misinformation, attacking our beliefs, attacking us and using our own culture against us,” Alvarado said. “We are a community of faith. We are a community of strong values and the Trump campaign, trying to use our own narrative and our own values to put us against each other.”
Polling shows that most Latino voters in Nevada weren't sold on Trump's sales pitch. Instead, numbers indicate that Biden's policies and outreach efforts, including advertisements in Spanish and collaborations with local Latino leaders, resonated with Nevada's Latino community.
Though final counts are still trickling in, numbers are already showing an increased turnout for Latino voters from years past.
The Democratic data firm TargetSmart noted that Latinos accounted for 13.1 percent of the early and absentee votes in Nevada, amounting to a roughly 185 percent increase in early and absentee votes from 2018 and about a 93 percent increase in those votes from 2016.
In a Monday briefing on the Latino vote, Kumar characterized Latino votes, particularly those from Latino youth, as the final push to bring Biden over the edge in battleground states, including Nevada.
"The story of 2020 is that young Latinx voters delivered victories in key presidential and Senate states," she said, noting that Voto Latino registered more people in battleground states than Biden's margin of victory in those states.
Of the more than 600,000 voters Voto Latino registered nationwide, 54 percent were first-time voters and 73 percent were under 40 years old, according to Kumar.
Voto Latino estimated that 19,200 18 to 29-year-old Latinos voted early, both in-person and by mail, in Nevada in 2016. In 2020, the organization is estimating that number was 35,700 — an 86 percent increase. Kumar said that 40 percent of all 2020 Latino early voters did not vote in 2016.
Romeo Munoz was one of those young Latinos who cast his first ballot during the election. He said voting for Biden was a clear decision.
"Anyone but Trump at this point," the 18-year-old told The Nevada Independent on Election Day in Las Vegas. "I feel like he hasn't done anything over the last four years really, and Biden I feel like is going to focus more on the poorer class."
His vote, which he described as "more against Trump" than for Biden, was particularly driven by his dislike of Trump's views on immigrants.
Breaking down the vote
Amid national conversations on the inaccuracies of election polling, which failed to foretell Trump’s 2016 victory or Biden’s close margins in swing states, Stephen Nuño-Perez, director of communications and senior analyst at Latino Decisions, told The Nevada Independent in an email that the Election Eve poll was conducted with various partner organizations that have specific expertise in subgroups of voters that have historically been inaccurately depicted in national polling.
The Edison Research exit poll from the National Election Pool, made up of NBC News, CBS News, ABC News and CNN, is the most commonly used tool for examining the election breakdown, but its small sample sizes of different racial or ethnic groups can make it an unreliable predictor of voting patterns by certain demographics.
Nevada does not collect or report registered voters' race, so analyses of exit polls are sometimes the only way organizations can get an idea of how a group of voters leaned during an election.
Traditional exit polls survey voters immediately after they've cast their ballot while their counterparts, entrance polls, catch voters before they enter a polling place. With the increased use of mail-in ballots from the pandemic, exit polls were expected to face further challenges accurately capturing voting tendencies.
"The exit poll people are most familiar with has a specific purpose, to estimate the outcome of an election. While the exit poll used by the media for this purpose is important, it is also important to understand that it is a problematic at best tool for understanding subcategories of groups, such as Latino voters," Nuño-Perez said. "Much of the work by researchers at Latino Decisions is based on the documented historical inaccuracies of polling when it comes to understanding Latinos."
The Election Eve poll is based on 400 responses from Nevada Latinos who already voted or said they were 100 percent certain they would vote through telephone interviews and online surveys from mid-October until the day before the election.
The poll shows that Biden was perceived more favorably amongst Latino voters in Nevada, 61 percent of whom said the former vice president "truly cared" about them compared to 30 percent who said the same for Trump.
Almost half of respondents said that Trump, who has received criticism for anti-immigrant rhetoric specifically against Latinos, "does not care" about them and another 18 percent said the president is "hostile" toward Latino voters. About a quarter said that Biden "does not care" about them and another 5 percent said he was "hostile" toward them.
Though polls before Election Day showed Latino men to be more likely to vote for Trump than Latina women, the Election Eve poll shows only a slight difference in gender amongst Latino voters in Nevada: men preferred Biden over Trump 70 percent to 27 percent while 71 percent of women supported Biden and 24 percent supported Trump.
Kumar said that the biggest gaps she saw within the national Latino voting bloc were between gender and age.
The Election Eve poll shows that 76 percent of Latino voters in Nevada under 40 supported Biden and 20 percent supported Trump. For those 40 and above, 65 percent voted for Biden and 31 percent voted for Trump.
"Our community is not a monolith, and we've said that over and over again here at Voto Latino. Instead, we are massively diverse, and we have to think differently to be sure that we're connecting with them," she said, noting nuances in the Latino identity, including national origin and different experiences in the U.S.
Nationally, Trump took a slight majority of votes from Cuban Americans while Biden succeeded with other nationality groups of Latinos, ranging from taking 58 percent of the share of those with South American heritage to 74 percent of the votes from those with Mexican roots.
The Latino population in Nevada is 70 percent Mexican, 5 percent Puerto Rican and 25 percent identifying as other Hispanic origins, the Pew Research Center reported in 2014.
Alvarado noted in the post-election forum that though there were Latinos who supported Trump, more Latinos supported Biden.
Part of her and Mi Familia Vota’s efforts went toward combating misinformation and voter disenfranchisement — two major roadblocks for Latino voters.
“We're still fighting a system and communities that are not here for us,” Alvarado said. “This should not be a close election, and it's a close election because unfortunately we still have a very strong systematic racism in place.”
According to the poll, the pandemic was the most important issue of the election for Latinos nationally and in Nevada, who make up 43 percent of the state's positive COVID cases but only account for 29 percent of the population, followed by the economy and health care costs.
These priorities held for Latino voters in Nevada across all of the poll's subcategories — including gender, age, education and if they are U.S. citizens or naturalized — except Latino Republicans, independents and those with an income of $50,000 a year or above reporting that the economy was their top issue with the pandemic second and health care third.
Driven by his desire to have the government get control of COVID-19, Vincent Cuevas, 66, voted for Biden at Desert Oasis High School in Las Vegas early in the morning on Election Day.
“I’m Puerto Rican, and I work a union job,” he told The Nevada Independent while he waited in line to vote. “I don’t vote Republican.”
Along with the pandemic, Cuevas listed making corporations pay “their fair share” of taxes as one of his biggest priorities as a voter as well as responding to global warming.
Cuevas described himself as a politically active individual who votes in every election and supported Biden during the Democratic caucus in Nevada in February. His engagement, he says, has increased this year.
“Because of who’s in the White House,” Cuevas said.
Historically, community organizers have been the primary outreach contacts for Latino voters, according to Segura. But Segura said there's been a "refreshing change" this year with political parties leading efforts, though he noted that party outreach to Latinos still sits about 10 points lower than outreach to Black and white voters.
In Nevada, 45 percent of Latino voters said they were contacted by Democrats, 36 percent by Republicans, 33 percent by community organizers and 34 percent said they received no contact.
Lorella Praeli, president of Community Change Action, an organization seeking to empower low-income people of color, said in the Election Eve poll briefing that campaigns must make early and substantial investments into Latino outreach because there are no shortcuts to getting votes from the diverse Latino community.
"You can't overgeneralize our community. You need to understand that we are different in New Mexico and we are different in Nevada and different in the state of Florida," she said. "That is the work of actually unpacking and understanding our electorate."
Praeli added that outreach showing cultural competence, such as the Biden Nevada campaign's serenades from mariachis and parades of Latino cowboys riding horseback called cabalgatas in Spanish, are effective tools, but must be paired with persuasion tactics giving Latinos a reason to vote for the candidate.
She explained that having Latinos in senior campaign positions is critical and noted Biden had Latina state Sen. Yvanna Cancela as a senior adviser.
Clarissa Martínez-de-Castro, deputy vice president of policy and advocacy at the Latino advocacy group UnidosUS, offered Bernie Sanders' 2020 presidential run as an example of an effective playbook for mobilizing Latinos, using "meaningful outreach" and creating relationships with the Latino community. Sanders won the Latino vote at the Nevada Democratic caucus by 33 points, according to entrance polls.
"The surprising thing is not that outreach continues to be low," she said, noting an increase — though late in the cycle — in efforts. "The surprising thing is that it's still happening … it's political malpractice, and I honestly think that there's gotta be some people that need to get fired."
She added that prioritizing Latino communities goes beyond just appealing for votes.
"Aggressive courtship of the Latino electorate by both parties is important," Martínez-de-Castro said. "The next step is that we want to watch that be turned into action."
Kristyn Leonard contributed to this story.
This story was updated at 8:53 a.m. on Nov. 16, 2020 to clarify that Voto Latino's estimates for early voting accounted for both in-person and mailed-in ballots.