Posted on December 22, 2020

Immigrant Neighborhoods Shifted Red as the Country Chose Blue

Weiyi Cai and Ford Fessenden, New York Times, December 20, 2020

Across the United States, many areas with large populations of Latinos and residents of Asian descent, including ones with the highest numbers of immigrants, had something in common this election: a surge in turnout and a shift to the right, often a sizable one.

The pattern was evident in big cities like Chicago and New York, in California and Florida, and along the Texas border with Mexico, according to a New York Times analysis of voting in 28,000 precincts in more than 20 cities.

Joseph R. Biden Jr. beat President Trump in almost all of these places en route to his record popular vote victory. But the red shifts, along with a wave of blue shifts in Republican and white areas, have scrambled the conventional wisdom of American politics and could presage a new electoral calculus for the parties.

Thousands of new voters across the country turned out in areas with significant numbers of Latinos and residents of Asian descent — populations whose participation in past elections has lagged. And over all, Mr. Trump, whose policies and remarks were widely expected to alienate immigrants and voters of color, won the lion’s share of the additional turnout.


With only a few exceptions, all of these areas continued to be Democratic strongholds, giving more votes to Mr. Biden by substantial margins. But in a divided American electorate, any shift can be consequential. {snip}

Asian-Americans and Latinos are growing parts of the American electorate. Currently, about 13 percent of eligible voters are Hispanic, and 4 percent are Asian-American. By 2032, Hispanic voters are predicted to make up 18 percent of the electorate and the Asian-American share is also expected to grow.

The chronically low turnout in both groups has been a continuing riddle, but the voters in each group — while widely diverse in background, income and outlook — had leaned heavily Democratic over all. {snip}

Latino growth in particular had figured in experts’ predictions of the decline of Republican influence in battleground states like Texas, Florida and Arizona. That could change, however, with the 2020 turnout surge and Mr. Trump’s success at peeling off voters.


The Times analysis also shows that in urban and suburban precincts with the highest proportion of white voters, turnout also rose steeply, but Mr. Trump’s margin declined in those places, compared with 2016. It also fell in Republican precincts: In 3,600 of the 5,000 precincts where he beat Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump’s margin in 2020 was lower than it was in 2016.


In Florida, a state Mr. Trump won, the red shift was especially large in areas with many people of Cuban descent — including refugees from Communist rule and an energized younger generation.


In once deeply blue Miami, where a majority of Latinos are of Cuban descent, Mr. Biden’s margin of victory was just seven percentage points, down from Mrs. Clinton’s margin of 29 percentage points in 2016. And two Democratic congresswomen lost their seats there in this election.

But the shift right in areas with high immigrant populations was statewide, not just in Miami, and helped the president win the state with a margin larger than in 2016, though polls had predicted a Biden win.

The shift occurred in many precincts with Latino immigrants from Central and South America, including in Fort Lauderdale, north of Miami. And it also encompassed areas that are Latino but not immigrant. In Orlando, precincts with a substantial population of Puerto Ricans shifted red, though less so than the ones in Miami.

There were substantial variations in the level of turnout and in the magnitude of the shift in different populations, including large shifts and turnout in Cuban precincts; huge turnout and milder shifts in Mexican precincts in Arizona; and big shifts and modest turnout in Dominican neighborhoods of New York City. But almost everywhere, there was a turnout increase, and a rightward shift.

The Times analysis included 5,700 precincts in which the combined population of Latinos and people of Asian descent was 65 percent or more. In these places, the margin shifted toward the president by an average of 13 points.


Mr. Trump’s most sizable gains outside of Miami were in the Rio Grande Valley in the predominantly Hispanic areas along the border with Mexico, including Hidalgo County, home to McAllen.

In San Antonio, the nation’s biggest majority Latino city, turnout was up nearly 30 percent. Democrats hoped to flip the 23rd Congressional District in southwest Texas, including much of the city, but failed.


Across Texas, the red shifts were most pronounced in precincts with the highest proportion of Latinos. The Democratic margin in 80 percent Latino precincts dropped an average of 17 percentage points.


But Democrats lost ground in Philadelphia. In precincts with high numbers of Latinos and residents of Asian descent, Mr. Biden lost about 10,000 votes, compared with the Democratic vote four years ago. He lost an additional 5,000 votes in majority Black precincts.

In New York City, where 38 percent of residents are immigrants, most areas shifted right, even though they all remained strongly Democratic. This included virtually every predominantly Latino precinct and ones where a majority of residents are of Asian descent.

In the city’s 100 precincts with the largest number of Latinos, Mr. Trump received 18 percent of the vote this year, compared with just 7 percent in 2016. In precincts with large numbers of residents of Asian descent, turnout was up 20 percent, with Mr. Trump winning most of the additional votes.


In areas with a majority of residents of Chinese descent, the shift was less extreme, but still to the right, in spite of the president’s xenophobic behavior, including the deliberate labeling of the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” and demanding that China be held accountable for the pandemic.


Republicans argue that the election represents the beginnings of a realignment of conservative, religious working people in immigrant communities and communities of color into their party.


Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, said he worried before the election that Democrats’ focus on racial justice issues came at the expense of outreach about easing the lives of hard-pressed workers.


(Editor’s note: Readers should view the whole article to see the full maps and data.)