As of Tuesday night, there was no clear winner in the 2020 presidential race. Nor is one likely to emerge until later in the week, when the votes are fully tabulated in slow-counting swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Still, it is clear that the race will not be, as some had predicted, a blow-out for Joe Biden. Biden has already lost the crucial swing state of Florida. He has also underperformed in Georgia and North Carolina. It looks like if Biden wins, the path is through Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, with possible help from Arizona and Nebraska’s 2nd district.
The race is much closer in large part because Biden is performing worse than Hillary Clinton did among people of color, especially Latinos. Explaining Trump’s Florida victory, New York Times polling analyst Nate Cohn notes that “Trump is doing way, way better than 2016 in Hispanic and Cuban areas. He’s also doing better in majority black precincts. Biden *is* doing better in older and relatively white areas.… But not by much—and that doesn’t cut it in diverse FL.”
There has been a consistent pattern in polling for most of 2020 of Biden doing better with white voters than Hillary Clinton, while doing worse than she did among people of color. Clinton herself did worse than Barack Obama with people of color. So the current election follows a pattern, going back nearly a decade, of Democrats losing their edge with people of color. Even if Biden should win, this pattern should give the party pause, especially since it is doing so against a notorious bigot like Donald Trump.
If Trump is doing better with people of color, it’s for the same reason he has improved the Republican Party’s edge among non-college-educated white voters: class. Trump talks the language of bread-and-butter economics, promising jobs. Democrats, with the exception of the progressive wing of the party, have abandoned class language and instead focus on national unity. The problem with Trump, to hear Biden tell it, is that he’s a divisive figure. Biden, to be sure, bluntly criticizes Trump’s bigotry. But Biden, like Clinton, is also eager to pursue erstwhile Republicans, many of whom are suburban whites. In tailoring their message to these voters, Biden and Clinton have softened the economic populism Democrat need to win working-class voters.
As HuffPost writer Zach Carter observes, “the big shift so far is Democrats losing ground with Black and Latino voters. If that holds, then Democrats have to do some soul-searching, and then some resigning.”
The travesty of this election is that Biden’s problems with Latino voters were well-known. Biden did worse among them than Bernie Sanders did. The Biden campaign could have turned to Sanders for advice on how to solve this problem. Instead, it did nothing.
As Politico reported in May:
Joe Biden won the primary in spite of, not because of, his efforts to turn out Latinos. Two months later, Hispanic leaders are waiting on his campaign to deliver on its promises to do more.
In interviews, more than 20 Latino political operatives, lawmakers, and activists said they don’t see a game plan from Biden to marshal Hispanic voters effectively in the fall. They said there’s little evidence the campaign is devoting the resources or hiring the staff that task will require—all the more crucial during a pandemic, when reaching and mobilizing Latino voters through in-person canvassing is nearly impossible.
Even if Biden wins, there needs to be soul-searching on the part of both Democrats and progressives. As Yale law professor Samuel Moyn asks, “How can the progressive outlook not require a major overhaul if it succeeds thanks to well-off suburbs, with some evidence of softening minority support?”