Florida’s Hispanic voters back Gov. Ron DeSantis over Democrat Charlie Crist, and they even support the Republican’s decision to fly migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, according to a new Telemundo/LX News poll.
Overall, DeSantis leads Crist by 51% to 44% statewide among those voters, and 56% approve of the job the governor is doing, compared with 41% who don’t, the survey conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy, found.
DeSantis lost Hispanic voters by 10 percentage points when he was elected in 2018, exit polls showed, and if he wins them Nov. 8, it would all but ensure his victory in a state where Democrats traditionally need to rely on solid support from Hispanic and Black voters to overcome Republican advantages with white voters.
Florida Latinos have shifted rightward since 2018 as Republicans tied their opponents to Democratic Socialists like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — a potent message for voters who fled leftist regimes or violence in Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Colombia.
But attitude also matters when it comes to Latinos, and DeSantis has it, said Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker.
“There are lots of Hispanic voters in this state who really like the governor’s style, this strongman who won’t back down. And Crist has no mojo,” said Coker, who conducted the bilingual survey of 625 likely Hispanic voters from Oct. 17-22. The error margin is 4 percentage points.
Few issues exemplify DeSantis' take-on-all-comers approach to politics than his open-for-business management of the Covid pandemic over the past two years and his decision last month to fly about 50 Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio, Texas, to the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard to make a statement about President Joe Biden’s border policies.
The Martha’s Vineyard flight resulted in widespread condemnation, lawsuits, questions about the contract and DeSantis' reported use of migrant labor to coordinate the effort, and a Texas criminal investigation over whether the migrants were criminally misled. DeSantis hasn’t undertaken any more known migrant relocation flights, and Biden has changed his border policy concerning Venezuelans.
Amid all the controversy, Florida Hispanics side with the governor on the Martha’s Vineyard flight, with 50% in favor and 43% opposed to the relocation, according to the poll. Independents joined Republicans in lending majority support to the governor on the issue while Democrats were opposed.
Support for DeSantis’ migrant relocation move was strongest among Hispanic immigrants. Those born outside the United States favored the policy by 52% to 41%, according to the poll. Those born in the United States were almost equally divided, with 49% in favor and 45% opposed.
Helena Poleo, a Democratic strategist who immigrated to the U.S. from Venezuela two decades ago, said she wasn’t surprised that so many Florida Latinos supported the Martha’s Vineyard flight transporting Venezuelan migrants. She said that some fellow Venezuelan Americans backed DeSantis’ effort because many of them have been here for a long time, are whiter and wealthier and don’t identify with the poor darker-skinned migrants.
"The division of class and race was very marked in Venezuela, and they carried that here," Poleo said. "DeSantis knew what he was doing."
But, she said, there were also basic concerns about immigration as well because South Florida is so crowded and housing already comes at a premium, especially in cities like Doral, which has such a large Venezuelan population that it's nicknamed "Doralzeula."
"They don’t want any more people," she said. "They want to close the borders of Doral. Well, that’s not how it works."
Giancarlo Sopo, a Republican strategist of Cuban descent from Miami, said a strain of immigration restrictionism that grew out of the 1980 Mariel boat lift from Cuba and upended Miami prevails.
"Too many Democrats think Hispanics like uncontrolled mass migration and they couldn't be more wrong," Sopo said. "Those of us who remember Miami in the '80s and '90s remember the aftermath of Mariel when 120,000 people showed up in the community over a span of six months. What we're now seeing at the border is two Mariels per month."
When comparing it with migrant flights, Florida Hispanics are more united in supporting DeSantis' management of the pandemic, with 64% in favor and 34% opposed, the poll found. DeSantis has faced criticism by Democrats, health experts and some in the media for opening state businesses and schools early while banning vaccine and mask mandates.
For his Spanish-language broadcast TV commercials, DeSantis has spent about a fifth of his $3.7 million on two ads that, respectively, tout the reopening of schools and businesses, according to data from the firm AdImpact. The firm’s data shows that DeSantis has spent and reserved a total of $25 million on broadcast TV compared with Crist’s total ad spend of $3.1 million, meaning DeSantis has spent more on Spanish-language ads than Crist has spent in total on statewide ads in English and Spanish.
DeSantis has run 10 times more TV ads in Spanish than Crist, who is trailing DeSantis overall in the polls and in total ad spending, and is at a huge financial disadvantage in the race. The governor's political and campaign committees have more than $92 million combined left in the bank; Crist has less than $1.8 million in his two accounts.
Crist’s sole Spanish-language TV ad tracked by AdImpact features his running mate, Karla Hernandez-Mats, the president of the teachers union in Miami-Dade County, the state’s most populous with the highest number of Hispanic residents. DeSantis’ running mate, Lt. Gov. Jeannette Núñez, is also Hispanic and hails from Miami.
Miami-Dade took a notable rightward turn in 2020, when Trump lost the county by 7 percentage points. Four years before, he lost Miami-Dade by 29 points. By keeping his Miami loss margin to single digits, Trump ensured he won the state by a relatively comfortable margin.
As with Trump, DeSantis’ strongest support comes from Cuban Americans, the largest group of voters in Miami-Dade and one of the largest blocs of Hispanic voters in the state. While specific numbers are unavailable, political experts estimate Cuban Americans account for at least a third of the Latino voter rolls.
The Telemundo/LX News poll shows 72% of Cuban Americans favor DeSantis over Crist, who earns 22% of their support in the poll.
Voters with Puerto Rican roots -- who tend to live in Central Florida, vote more Democratic and also may account for about a third of the Latino voter rolls, according to experts — back Crist over DeSantis by 59% to 37%. And other Hispanic voters from throughout Latin America also side with Crist over DeSantis by a narrower percentage, 53% to 43%.
Both DeSantis and Crist receive strong support from voters registered with their respective parties, but DeSantis has slightly more intense intraparty support than Crist, and the governor is leading among independent Hispanic voters by a 22-point margin.
DeSantis derived a potential benefit from Hurricane Ian, which had devastated southwest Florida but gave DeSantis weeks of unfettered TV time, including a rare bipartisan appearance when Biden visited the state. The poll showed 73% approved of DeSantis’ handling of the storm and 17% disapproved.
In the aftermath of the storm, the state faces housing and insurance difficulties that DeSantis has vowed to address. The poll shows that, at least among Hispanic voters, he’s in positive territory for now, with 52% approving and 35% percent disapproving of the way he’s handled the two issues related to the storm.
Coker said there’s one dynamic in the race that’s out of both candidates’ hands: the national economy.
“You can’t ignore the 800-pound gorilla: The economy sucks for a lot of people,” Coker said. “And in the last stretch of the election, it comes down to a referendum on a sitting president and how is the economy? On both counts the Democrats come up short.”
Miami-based Democratic strategist Christian Ulvert, however, cautioned that all good politics is local when it comes to Florida Hispanic outreach, and his party often fails at it to the advantage of Republicans like DeSantis.
“Oftentimes, much to my frustration,” he said, “Democrats go with national story lines to connect with Hispanic voters in Florida.”