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Ron DeSantis' popularity among Latinos is the fault of hapless Democrats

Democrats are apparently conceding Florida, and DeSantis will likely be a 2024 presidential candidate with strong support from Latino voters.
Image: Ron DeSantis speaks to a crowd during a campaign rally. A sign in the audience reads,\"Latinos for Trump\".
Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, speaks to the crowd before President Donald Trump arrives during a campaign rally in Sanford, Florida, on Oct. 12, 2020.Zack Wittman / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Despite political predictions in September that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had made a “huge mistake” when he authorized the trafficking of mostly Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard using state money, two polls released this week (one by Telemundo/LX News and one by Futuro Media, the company I work for) show, respectively, that DeSantis is winning the Latino vote in his run for re-election and that he is the most popular politician among Florida’s Latino voters.

Two polls released this week show that DeSantis is the most popular politician among Florida’s Latino voters.

While it might be tempting to give all the credit to DeSantis and the Republican Party, the governor’s popularity among Latinos is more a function of how Democrats failed miserably to maintain the momentum they gained during the 2008 and 2012 election cycles, when Barack Obama won the state. Back then, Democrats were praised for understanding how Latino voters were changing the state and for being ahead of a transformation that moved away from the traditional Cuban voter base and gravitated toward a growing Puerto Rican population as well as voters from Latin America. But those days are gone.

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The Future Media poll shows that 43% of likely Latino voters have a "very favorable" view of DeSantis, and 9% have a "somewhat favorable" view of him for an overall favorability rating of 52%. Sen. Marco Rubio has an overall favorability rating of 50% and former President Donald Trump, 48%. Latinos account for 21% of the state’s eligible voters. Even as DeSantis’ Martha’s Vineyard stunt was being condemned, there was plenty of support from mostly Venuezuelan conservatives in Florida who saw the stunt as an effective way to criticize President Biden’s immigration policy and call attention to the “delinquents” leaving the South American country. But it’s not just Venezuelans or even conservative Latinos.

According to Telemundo/LX News poll, 50% of Florida's Latino likely voters approved of his flying those Venezuelan migrants to Martha's Vineyard, and only 43% of those voters disapproved. Overall, 56% of these Latino likely voters approved of DeSantis' job performance.

Just how bad is it for Democrats? In his re-election bid against Democrat Charlie Crist, DeSantis is likely to become the first Republican to win traditionally blue Miami-Dade County in 20 years. In the 10 years since Obama’s second Florida win, no Democrat has won a major election in Florida. Not a presidential race. Not a Senate race. Not a governor’s race.

Democrats are apparently conceding Florida, and DeSantis will likely be a 2024 presidential candidate with strong support from Latino voters in a pivotal Electoral College state.

How did it get to be like this?

During the 2020 election cycle, several political organizers publicly lamented that efforts by Florida Democrats to reach the state’s 1 million eligible Puerto Rican voters clearly missed the mark, especially after 2018, when Republican Rick Scott successfully courted Puerto Rican voters to win a Senate race over Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. Many of those Puerto Rican voters were new to Florida and were still recovering from the shocks of Hurricane Maria in 2017.

The Telemundo poll shows 59% of Puerto Rican voters favor Crist in the gubernatorial race, and 37% favor DeSantis. By 53% to 43%, Latino voters who are neither Cuban nor Puerto Rican favor Crist. But Democrats have done a poor job exciting that constituency.

This election cycle, as Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz has promised to focus on “pocketbook issues,” the party has still been dogged by questions over whether it understands the diversity of Florida’s new Latino electorate.

“The economy, education, health care — those are things that the Democratic Party has focused on in the past year,” Diaz noted back then. “We don’t need to focus on these useless culture wars.”

However, as the Futuro Media poll noted earlier this week, 52% of Latinos in Florida said their economic situation had worsened under President Joe Biden, and 13% said it had improved. It’s no wonder that Biden’s approval rating in the poll was at 43%, a whole 9 points behind DeSantis’.

Such disparity suggests that even as DeSantis continues to be extreme on many controversial issues that deny the rights of women, children and families, avoiding “useless culture wars” to focus on economic issues has not resulted in success for Democrats.

In a state like Florida — where Latinos will continue to swing results — the level of outreach must get more granular and more complex.

There lies the bigger problem when it comes to Latinos and elections. The days of what could have been a more reliable Democratic vote have long dissipated, whether that was a result of that party having taken Latinos for granted or effective “fear of socialism” from Republicans. In a state like Florida — where Latinos will continue to swing results — the level of outreach must get more granular and more complex. It must speak with authenticity and understanding. Until that happens, Democrats will just stay where they are — a bit stuck with no concrete vision or movement forward.

As a result, what happens in less than two weeks may likely prove that ideological changes among Latinos in Florida are no fluke, and as it has been reported before, “it could be too late” for Democrats to fix it even for this cycle or for several more to come.