DEEP BLUE MASSACHUSETTS, where Joe Biden ran up his biggest margin of any state, was an afterthought in the presidential race, which was largely fought in a dozen or so battleground states. But results in Lawrence and a handful of other Massachusetts Gateway Cities with large Latino populations show a striking pattern that lines up with one of the more surprising national trends in the race: gains by President Trump among Latino voters.
While Trump’s share of the statewide vote ticked down slightly this year compared with 2016, the margin between his vote and that of his Democratic opponent narrowed in 21 Massachusetts communities, a pattern that is particularly noteworthy in cities with large Hispanic populations, according to an analysis by Rich Parr, research director of the MassINC Polling Group.
The greatest shift toward Trump in the state occurred in Lawrence, where the gap between his vote share and that of the Democratic nominee — Hillary Clinton in 2016, Joe Biden in 2020 — narrowed by 21 percentage points, according to the analysis. Clinton beat Trump 85-15 four years ago, while Biden’s margin in Lawrence was 74-26. The former mill city of 80,000 residents is 80 percent Hispanic, the highest share of any community in the state.
Biden got 2,835 fewer votes in Lawrence than Clinton did four years ago (16,854 vs. 19,669), while Trump increased his vote there from 3,517 in 2016 to 5,776 this year.
The gap between Trump and his Democratic opponent narrowed by 8 to 9 percentage points in Chelsea, Holyoke, and Springfield, where Hispanic residents account for 45 to 67 percent of the population.
“These findings suggest that, even in Massachusetts, where Joe Biden got his highest share of the vote of any state, Donald Trump was able to make inroads with Latino voters,” said Parr. “Biden still won these cities handily, but they are among the few places in the state where Trump improved his share of vote versus 2016.”
The figures from heavily Hispanic Massachusetts cities are in keeping with exit poll results showing that Trump made gains nationally among Hispanic voters from his 2016 showing. While Biden won the Hispanic vote by a roughly 2-1 margin nationally, there was particular erosion of support for the Democratic nominee in Florida, where Biden won just over half the vote compared with Clinton’s 62 percent, according CNN exit polling.
Nationally, the Democratic nominee’s margin over Trump among Latina women went from 44 percentage points in 2016 to 42 percent this year and from 31 points to 25 points among Latino men, according to the CNN exit polls.
Some may find it hard to square increased Hispanic support for Trump with the race-baiting rhetoric he has regularly deployed and his harsh language and policies toward immigrants, but a sizable minority of Hispanic voters were drawn to at least some part of his message or stand on issues.
Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera said Spanish-language misinformation campaigns that bombarded Florida voters via social media with messages linking Biden to Fidel Castro or claiming the coronavirus was a hoax quickly also found their way to Lawrence, even if voters there weren’t the intended target.
But apart from any impact that may have had, Rivera said there is a more conservative streak running through Hispanic communities that is often not appreciated.
“I would call a majority of Latinos in Lawrence ‘JFK Democrats,’” he said. “They are churchgoing and ambivalent about choice and abortion.” Many are first-generation citizens from very Catholic countries, and he said some are particularly receptive to Trump’s anti-abortion stance.
The embrace of Trump by some evangelical Christian leaders may have had particular resonance within the growing Pentecostal Christian community in Lawrence, said Kendrys Vasquez, the Dominican-born president of the Lawrence City Council. “We are a Democratic city, but with a lot of conservative values,” said Vasquez.
Matt Szafranski, whose Western Massachusetts Politics & Insight website focuses on Springfield, said he has not yet seen the detailed precinct breakdown of the presidential vote in there. But he said it’s even possible that the high-profile showdown over Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court elevated the abortion issue just before the election in a way that resonated with pro-life Hispanic voters.
The Democrat-Trump margin narrowed by 10 points in both New Bedford and Fall River, according to Parr’s analysis. Boston, Worcester, and Lowell saw a smaller 2 to 4 point narrowing of the Democrat-Trump margin. The 13 other communities that saw the margin shift toward Trump were small towns in Berkshire and Worcester counties along with West Newbury in Essex County, and Acushnet and Dartmouth on the South Coast.
Gains for Trump in predominantly Hispanic communities were also seen in Rhode Island. WPRI’s Eli Sherman and Ted Nesi reported that Biden outperformed Clinton’s 2016 tally there statewide, but Trump made gains in several heavily Hispanic precincts in Providence and in Central Falls, where the population is 66 percent Hispanic and support for Biden fell 19.5 points from Clinton’s vote.
Central Fall Mayor James Diossa told the station he was not surprised, saying abortion was the issue he heard cited most by voters as well as Trump’s unfounded labeling of Biden and the Democratic Party as socialist, an issue that may have resonated with those who have fled socialist countries.
Rivera said pundits and political campaigns continue to make the mistake of lumping Hispanic voters into a single category, despite their widely divergent backgrounds. “The Hispanic vote is not a monolithic vote,” he said.
Ray La Raja, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who is associate director of the UMass Poll, said Latinos often bring a perspective that can’t be pigeonholed into a clear ideological camp.
“Latinos still support the Democratic ticket,” he said. But he said that doesn’t translate to uniform support for every position being advanced in the party. “When you have elements of the Democratic Party calling for defunding the police, that is the last thing people in some of these communities want to hear,” said La Raja.
Rivera pointed out that Lawrence residents twice bucked the statewide vote by opposing the legalization of medical marijuana and then recreational marijuana. Once pot sale became legal, he said, “the City Council voted unanimously not to allow marijuana stores here.”