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How Latino Voters Broke Expectations This Election

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

As the country waits to find out who will sit in the White House for the next four years, the postmortems have already begun into who voted, how they voted and why they voted the way they did. One group getting a lot of attention - Latino voters. Much of the head-scratching has focused on President Trump's better-than-expected showing among Latino voters and Joe Biden's less-than-expected showing with that group. But focusing on Latino voters as one group with identical concerns misses the point. That is what Julio Ricardo Varela says. He co-hosts the "In The Thick" podcast and is the founder of Latino Rebels.

Welcome.

JULIO RICARDO VARELA: Hey. How are you?

CHANG: Good. So I want to start with one take that we have been hearing a lot since Tuesday, and that is that President Trump gained with Latino voters. What do you make of that conclusion that Trump has made progress with this electorate?

VARELA: You know, one of the things that I've been saying is this is within the historical pattern of Republicans, and, you know, a third of the Latino vote has been going - fluctuating since 1980. And this notion of gaining - I mean, he got 28%, 29% the last time around, so he goes up three or four points. Every Latino journalist, every academic, every professor, every commentator was seeing - was - saw this coming. Like, we saw it because the Trump campaign targeted - was investing in places like Miami, was investing in places like Nevada. And I'm not surprised. And that's the part - and this is why I want to break this down a little bit more...

CHANG: Yeah.

VARELA: ...Because the big story here is that the Latino vote - if you look at it as swing states, if you look at it in different geographical locations...

CHANG: Right - Florida, Texas, Arizona...

VARELA: ...Is elevating Joe Biden to the White House. I mean...

CHANG: Oh, in certain parts, yeah. Well, let's talk about that because, you know, it should be known that Republicans have historically gotten - what? - about a third of Latino voters...

VARELA: Yeah, a third.

CHANG: ...Nationally, right? And yet we keep hearing pundits, campaigns, journalists talk about the Latino vote as if it is just one voting bloc. So tell us specifically how Latino voters are actually a very diverse voting bloc.

VARELA: Yeah, they are. Can I just - I'll go through the different regions. I like to call these the regions now. So Florida - it's its own region. Texas is its own region. Then you go to the Southwest, the new blue wall. So you're thinking of Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, California, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington state, all states with significant Latino populations, mostly Mexican American and Central American. So that's one area.

Go to the Midwest - you know, Wisconsin, Michigan. The southwest neighborhood of Detroit is - you know, they came out and voted. There's a reason why Joe Biden is - you know, did well in the Midwest. And Latinos played part of it. Milwaukee, Pennsylvania - eastern Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, you know, the suburbs outside of New York and eastern Pennsylvania - Puerto Ricans, Dominicans. And then go down to Georgia. Go down to North Carolina. Gwinnett County in Atlanta - I mean, one - Sonja Diaz of UCLA - 77 - tweeted out 77% went for Joe Biden. And Georgia's in play. So this is what I mean - is that, you know, we need to start looking at Latinos like we're looking at swing states because we're so fractured...

CHANG: Right.

VARELA: ...We're so different that we're our own swing state, you know what I mean?

CHANG: And very quickly, if I may just jump in, how does this misunderstanding that the Latino vote is monolithic - how does that undermine both Democrats' and Republicans' ability to engage with Latino voters?

VARELA: Because they're not engaging - that's the thing. Democrats have always looked at us as this monolith. It's over. This is 2020. We're growing. We're 32 million eligible voters. We represent different ideologies. We come from different backgrounds, different demographics, economic status - working class, you know, middle class, upper class. It's changing. We're white. We're Black. We're Indigenous. We're mixed. Figure it out. It's like - there's no longer Hispanic media. It's what it is. It's like we're swing states. That's who we are.

CHANG: That is Julio Ricardo Varela. He hosts the "In The Thick" political podcast.

Thank you.

VARELA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.