Can Latinos Get on the Biden Bandwagon? (OPINION)

Mar 5, 2020
2:34 PM

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden smiles at supporters during a campaign event at Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Super Tuesday is long behind us, and so far this election cycle, Americans in 18 states and the territory of American Samoa have cast ballots or held caucuses. As of Thursday afternoon, the field of candidates has now narrowed down to a Joe Biden vs. Bernie Sanders race. After reviewing the national 2020 polls, and focusing on the two largest Latino states by population, California and Texas, I honestly wonder if Latino voters who are supporting Sanders will be willing to get on the Biden bandwagon in November if indeed Biden is the eventual nominee.

Up until the South Carolina primary, the Biden campaign was a non-campaign. Yes, it was the strong support of African American voters, white suburban voters and an alignment of most of the moderate former candidates that propelled him to victories in South Carolina and 10 Super Tuesday states. But the question remains as to whether Americans only want a change of the puppet currently residing in the White House or do they want a new vision for all Americans.

As news organizations called the Super Tuesday states, it became clear that Biden was riding a tsunami to victory. On Wednesday, pundits spent plenty of breath praising Biden and declaring him as a recreator of the Obama coalition.

Not so fast. Digging into the data, the Biden coalition does not enjoy the same level of Latino support as Obama did. And perhaps the record of the Obama/Biden administration is the kryptonite for Biden that nobody is talking about. Biden has been reminding the national electorate that he was Obama’s Vice President. With that reminder comes the weight of the policy history of the Obama/Biden administration.

While Obama delivered on a number of campaign promises and compromised on others, his administration broke a few of them that were high priorities for Latinos. Obama promised to deliver a comprehensive immigration reform and instead got the moniker of “deporter-in-chief.” Many Latinos felt that Biden was just too late in calling this policy a “big mistake” one week before the February 22 Nevada Caucus—a contest Sanders won with overwhelming Latino support.

In addition, during the housing collapse and the Great Recession that followed, Latinos lost 66 percent of their wealth due to predatory lending in the housing market and have yet to recover. The Obama/Biden administration promised to help homeowners but their interventions through the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) and the Make Home Affordable Program helped banking institutions but did not benefit Latino homeowners much. At the closure of those programs, the Obama/Biden efforts were considered a “colossal failure” by the Special Inspector General for TARP.

With respect to health care, the Affordable Care Act expanded access to health insurance but failed to put in place cost containment mechanisms and while it expanded coverage, it left 28 million Americans without access. Latinos continue to have higher uninsured rates that other populations.

Furthermore, while most pundits believe that Latino voters only care about immigration, there are other issues that are important to them. For example, Pew Research Center’s December 2019 National Survey of Latinos shows that Latinos care about so many other issues.

For example, 82% of Latino Democratic voters believe that the government should take a more active role in solving problems; 88% of them support raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour; and 84% believe the government is responsible for providing health care to all Americans. These are issues that the Sanders campaign has been speaking to for years while Biden has been focused on speaking about his electability and beating Trump like a drum.

So, reminding Latinos that he was Obama’s vice president may not necessarily play well with Latinos across the country, at least in states out West and in the Southwest. A review of the exit polls for California and Texas reveal that Latino Democratic voters showed up strongly for Sanders. In California, even as the state continues to count final ballots, 49% of the Latino vote went to Sanders and 22% to Biden, 11% to Mike Bloomberg, and 6% for Elizabeth Warren.  In Texas, 45% of the Latino vote went to Sanders, 24% to Biden, 17% to Bloomberg, and 6% for Warren. Even though Biden won Texas, Sanders won two others states with significant Latino populations: Nevada and Colorado. Sanders also won California.

So far, the Latino voter support for Biden is low. Bloomberg got out of the race and endorsed Biden. Warren suspended her campaign but has not endorsed anyone. It is uncertain as to whether the endorsement or lack thereof will translate into voters supporting Biden automatically.  All these results may mean that Biden has a sizeable Latino problem. It will be interesting to see whether Latino support for Bloomberg will now move on to Biden.

If the former vice president becomes the nominee, there is plenty of time prior to the general election in November for Biden to court Latino voters. Will the campaign make the effort? We also need to ask whether the Latino voters who strongly identify with the Sanders’ vision for our country can settle for the Biden bandwagon or will Latinos choose to sit this one out?


Aracely Panameño tweets from @panamenoaracely. Her views expressed therein are solely hers and do not represent the views of her employer.