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Poll: Bernie Sanders does well with Latinos — but not in Florida

A new poll shows Latino voters are backing Joe Biden over Sanders in Florida.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally at Lincoln Park on May 23, 2016, in East Los Angeles, California. 
David McNew/Getty Images
Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is the favorite to win the Latino vote in the Arizona primary next week, as he has in several states so far.

But things are different in Florida, where former Vice President Joe Biden is currently besting Sanders among Latino voters by an 11-point margin, according to a Telemundo poll released Wednesday.

The state polls, which were conducted in early March and sampled hundreds of likely voters, show Sanders is preferred by 47 percent of Latino registered voters in Arizona, a state that Democrats are hoping to turn blue in 2020. Biden, meanwhile, has 40 percent of their support. And in a direct matchup with President Donald Trump, a majority said they would support either Sanders or Biden at rates of 68 percent and 72 percent, respectively.

But in Florida, Biden is preferred by 48 percent of Latino voters in the state, compared to 37 percent who support Sanders. And the poll shows Sanders in a tie with Trump in a direct matchup in a general election. Biden, however, would win in a landslide with Latino voters there, with 58 percent support among Latino voters compared to 38 percent who would back Trump.

It’s not surprising that Sanders is performing poorly among Latino voters in Florida, a swing state, despite successfully capturing the Latino vote in the Nevada, California, and Texas primary contests. Whereas Mexican Americans made up the vast majority of Latino voters in those previous contests, Florida’s Latinos are primarily Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Venezuelan, and they have different political preferences.

Cubans in particular tend to lean more conservative and backed Trump in 2016. Both Cubans and Venezuelans are also wary of socialism, so it follows that Sanders, a self-identified democratic socialist and progressive, isn’t getting their support.

According to the poll, Sanders is performing particularly badly in southeastern Florida, where there is a large Cuban community. Only 19 percent of Cubans — compared to 65 percent of Puerto Ricans — would vote for him in a contest against Trump. And 70 percent of Latino voters in the state said they wouldn’t vote for a candidate who described himself as a socialist.

Cubans are also more satisfied with their health care options than other Latino groups in Florida, a plurality of whom cited health care as their top priority in the poll. That means that Sanders’s signature issue of Medicare-for-all might not resonate with Cubans.

In Arizona, voter preferences play much more in Sanders’s favor. Roughly half of Latino voters say their communities are being “widely persecuted or discriminated against” under Trump and want to “change the direction [he] is leading the nation.”

Sanders has been trying to appeal to Latino voters with a progressive policy platform on immigration, but that isn’t the only issue that motivates them. He has also been speaking to their core interests, including health care and jobs. Starting last summer, he has poured resources into spreading his message, in both Spanish and English, to Latino communities. And he’s hired Latino staff from the grassroots advocacy community and integrated them into every facet of his campaign.