Experts Weigh in on Miami-Dade's Role in Trump's Florida Victory

Cubans favor Trump's policies on security, the economy, and the COVID-19 response.
Cubans favor Trump's policies on security, the economy, and the COVID-19 response. Photo by Shealah Craighead/Flickr
Early Wednesday morning, Donald Trump won the state of Florida, which wasn't exactly a big surprise. What was surprising, however, was how well he did in one of Florida's Democratic strongholds: Miami-Dade County.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the county by a margin of 30 percentage points, although she lost the state to Trump. This year, Biden won Miami-Dade by only seven percentage points — a huge 23-point gain for Trump. Experts and media outlets across the nation are attributing the change to Trump's outsize support among Hispanics, particularly Cuban-Americans.

Guillermo Grenier, a sociologist at Florida International University (FIU) and co-author of the 2020 Cuba Poll, predicted that Trump would win about 60 percent of the Cuban-American voting bloc in Miami. He was right on the money.

"It's terrible, but it didn't surprise me. The estimates were right on," Grenier tells New Times. "Half of his votes were from Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County."

In Hialeah, one of Miami-Dade's most Cuban municipalities, 46 out of 48 precincts had a majority of voters go for Trump, and most of them weren't even close, according to a New Times analysis of voting data from the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections. The exceptions were the Johnny L. Cotson Sr. Park precinct in the historically Black neighborhood of Seminola, which had only 18 total ballots cast, and the Hialeah Moose Lodge, where no ballots were cast.

Grenier says the core of Trump's messaging toward Cubans, with his "shock and awe" rhetoric and consistent presence in Miami, helped win over the majority of the community. Cubans favored his policies on security, the economy, and the COVID-19 response.

Biden did poorly among Cubans because he only focused on Cuba policy, according to Grenier. The Cuba Poll showed that to be the topic of least importance for Cubans in Miami.

"That really surprised me that Biden underperformed among Latinos like he did in South Florida. He squandered lot of the independent votes that could've been pulled from Republicans," Grenier says. "You can't come in once every four years and say, 'This is what I'm gonna do about Cuba.'"

Other Latin-American experts agree that Biden underperformed in Miami-Dade among Latino voters and that Trump's rhetoric largely appealed to Cuban-Americans and other Hispanic groups.

"Cubans have a proclivity for a leader that's dynamic and authoritarian. Some of the recent arrivals supporting Trump have a proclivity for political fanaticism," says Lisandro Pérez, a professor in the  Department of Latin American and Latinx Studies at the City University of New York and the founder of FIU's Cuban Research Institute. "In Latin America, since the colonial period, there's been a tendency to support strong, authoritarian leaders."

Pérez tells New Times that Trump's campaign succeeded in demonizing Biden and aligning him with socialism, adding that Biden didn't do enough to dispel the notion that he was a socialist.

"This played well nationally, but especially with Cubans — the fearmongering against socialism and fearmongering against social disorder," Pérez says.

Kathryn DePalo-Gould, a professor of political science at FIU, concurs with Pérez and tells New Times the narratives from the Trump campaign largely affected the Latino vote in Miami-Dade.

"It has everything to do with messaging. Equating Democratic progressive policies with socialism is so frightening to Hispanics in Miami," DePalo-Gould says.

Cuban-Americans aren't the only representatives of the Hispanic community, and many people have been quick to point out that the Latino vote is not a monolith.
Yet even among other Hispanic cultural groups in Miami, Trump and the Republican Party in general appear to be making strides.

Out of the 11 polling precincts in Doral, a largely Venezuelan-populated municipality, five had a majority of votes for Trump and five went for Biden. Precinct 374 had no ballots cast, according to the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections site.

The pro-Trump wave was clearer in the heavily Colombian neighborhood of The Hammocks in Kendall, where four out of seven precincts tallied majority votes for Trump.

Trump also made gains in Central Florida's Osceola County, home to a large percentage of Puerto Rican residents. While Biden won Osceola this year, the New York Times noted that the county shifted significantly toward Trump since 2016. Whereas Clinton won Osceola County by nearly 25 points, Biden's margin was only 14 points.

While support for Trump among Hispanics from various countries has risen significantly since 2016, Grenier says Cuban-Americans were the main group propping up Trump in Florida this election cycle.

"Cubans are really the ones banging the drum. The narrative of the Republican Party goes to its base, which is mainly Cuban-American voters," Grenier argues.

Florida has now voted for Republican leaders in the past three major elections, including the gubernatorial race in 2018, leading some to believe that its famous designation as a swing state may no longer be accurate.

"I don't know if we can continue calling ourselves a swing state. Maybe a battleground state," says DePalo-Gould.

Another big takeaway from this year's results: Polls keep getting it wrong.

Before Tuesday, a large number of polls projected that Biden would win Florida soundly. According to the Associated Press, Trump won the state by 3.4 percent — a relative landslide in a state known for tight races.

"Polling is dead," DePalo-Gould says. "Pollsters need to get creative about how to reach people and get them to answer honestly. Otherwise, I don't think we should listen to any of these polls."
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Joshua Ceballos is staff writer for Miami New Times. He is a Florida International University alum and a born-and-bred Miami boy.
Contact: Joshua Ceballos