One of the biggest surprises of the 2020 presidential election was the inroads President Trump made with Latino voters, particularly in Florida, Nevada and Texas. As both parties analyze the results of the election and what amounts to their “new constituencies” post-2020, Republicans will be looking for ways to solidify, and potentially grow, their margins with these voters. Support for Puerto Rican statehood should be at the top of the list.
Nationally, Trump got about a third of the Latino vote, which is on par with previous Republican candidates. But digging deeper into the key battlegrounds where the campaign conducted significant outreach to the Latino community (that was largely dismissed by the mainstream media), you find that a conservative message resonates and voters are persuadable.
If you listened to MSNBC or read the New York Times in the run-up to the election, you’d be forgiven for thinking that not a single Latino was going to cast a vote for Trump. But the reality is that the Trump campaign’s sustained outreach paid dividends.
In Nevada, we saw four in ten Latinos support Trump over Biden. And in counties along the U.S. border with Mexico, Trump was able to flip key counties with large Latino populations, improving on his vote totals from 2016. Trump earned over 50% of the Cuban vote in Florida, a key voting bloc that is traditionally conservative, but he also outperformed his 2016 totals in Osceola County, a Puerto Rican-heavy Central Florida county.
While most of us still haven’t recovered from the whiplash of the 2020 election, we shouldn’t be surprised how quickly focus turns to the midterm elections where Republicans will likely be fighting to retain control of the Senate and trying to win back the House. The 2022 election presents a real opportunity for Republicans to build off the gains they made with Latinos this year. And support for Puerto Rican statehood should play a key role in that effort.
On November 3rd, Puerto Rico voted for the third time in less than a decade for statehood. If Republicans in Congress pick up the mantle of statehood for the American citizens on the island who have made their preferences known, they could solidify their appeal to a key demographic heading into an election cycle where Puerto Ricans on the mainland will play a critical role. Even better, it would allow GOP candidates to draw a stark contrast between Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who have opposed the statehood vote.
In key states like Florida, which will have a hotly contested Senate race in 2022, 63 percent of Latinos in the state support statehood for the island. In Pennsylvania, which will have an open seat to replace retiring Republican Senator Pat Toomey, there is a large Puerto Rican population in the state. In addition, a poll conducted in the state earlier this year found that 56 percent of voters supported statehood, making this issue good politics for Republicans.
Republicans should be looking for policy positions that will help maintain and grow their support from Latinos across the country. Some of that will mean doubling-down on the outreach that the Trump campaign conducted in Florida and other states, but to expand support will require expanding the party’s appeal. Supporting Puerto Rico’s bid for statehood is common sense. As a bonus, respecting the will of the Puerto Rican people is also good policy and is the right thing to do.
Katlyn Batts is a former employee of the Jesse Helms Center.