The Importance of Pennsylvania’s Hispanic Vote
September 30, 2020
A fair amount of attention has been paid to Hispanic voters in a number of states expected to be very close in November: Florida, Arizona, Nevada, perhaps even Texas.
If the election is as tightly contested as many expect, it just might matter in Pennsylvania as well. Pennsylvania is home to more than 900,000 Hispanics, almost one in twelve people here.
A recent conversation in Lancaster, which was a majority-Hispanic city even before the arrival of a wave of Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017, provided a few hints about where that vote might fall.
Carmen, who came to Lancaster from San Juan at a cousin’s suggestion a dozen years ago, was outspoken in her support for Joe Biden and her less-than-complimentary views both on Donald Trump’s attitude toward Hispanics and his response to Hurricane Maria.
No one jumped at a chance to defend Trump, but beyond a few murmurs of general agreement my strongest impression was one of resigned detachment, a sense that even after lifetimes as American citizens and years as residents of Pennsylvania, national elections remained thing to watch from afar in much the same way other Americans with an interest in such things might follow returns in Great Britain or France.
All of which drives home the reason Pennsylvania’s Hispanic vote receives less attention than the numbers suggest that it might deserve: low turnout. Pennsylvania’s heavily Puerto Rican Hispanic community follows national patterns in a way New York-born Luis explained this way: “we’re sort of in-between: we aren’t ‘new Americans’ who want to show it by voting in an American election, and we aren’t a community that’s living in the shadows, with many people here illegally, who don’t vote at all—we’ve been American all our lives, we’re happy to be on the mainland, but the island is forever in our hearts so we feel a bit separated from things.”
Insiders from both parties echo that, with a bit of frustration in their voices. No statewide figure, Republican or Democrat, has really built a network of supporters in the Hispanic community and even in Philadelphia, where ethnic politics is taken for granted, the political voice of Hispanics is often sharply divided based on ethnic and factional divisions.
No one really doubts that Joe Biden will carry the vote of Pennsylvania Hispanics by a comfortable margin—but whether that vote will be large enough to matter remains very much an open question.