Laura Bonilla Cal with Leila Macor in Miami
November 10, 2016

New York (AFP) - Latino voters were supposed to be Hillary Clinton's secret weapon to win the White House -- but even high turnout by voters in the fastest-growing US minority wasn't enough for her to seal the deal.

What happened? For starters, fewer Latinos and African-Americans -- groups that traditionally vote for Democrats -- voted for Clinton than for Barack Obama in 2012.

And the increase of the Latino vote was mitigated by a higher turnout among white non-Hispanics and less educated people that supported Republican Donald Trump across the country.

The Latino vote "was no doubt a record, but we have to wait until April or May to have the definitive figures," said Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic Research at the Pew Research Center (PRC).

More than 27 million Latinos were registered to vote, but Lopez estimates that less than half -- some 13 million -- actually cast ballots.

- "Hillary is not Obama" -

A good 65 percent of self-declared Latino voters said that they supported Clinton, a former first lady, senator and secretary of state, while 29 percent supported Trump, a real estate businessman and reality TV star with zero political experience.

Moreover, many of Trump's proposals could be considered anti-Latino: he proposed deporting the 11 million undocumented migrants in the country, the bulk of whom are from Latin America; build a wall on the US border with Mexico; and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement -- which includes Canada and Mexico -- which he blasted as a "disaster."

In the 2012 election, Obama won 72 percent of Latino voters, against rival Mitt Romney who won 27 percent.

"Hillary Clinton is not Barack Obama, they are different candidates," said Lopez. "The Hispanic electorate is conservative, the Cuban-Americans are traditionally Republicans, there are some against abortion."

In general, Latinos who voted for Trump "are more likely to be Cuban-Americans, to have a higher income, to have a higher college education than other Hispanics," and tend to live in conservative states like Florida, Arizona or Texas.

On average, Clinton voters tend to have higher education and live in states that reliably vote for Democrats like New York and California.

Democrats were hoping that the Latino vote would be decisive for the first time in US history and help push Clinton to victories in places such as Arizona and Florida, two states that she nevertheless lost on Tuesday.

- Defeat in Florida -

If Trump had lost Florida, it would have been over for him. Both candidates focused heavily on the far southeastern US state -- Trump focusing on the most conservative enclaves, and Clinton focusing on votes from the Puerto Rican community, African-Americans and young Latinos.

In Florida, Clinton "was counting on a higher turnout and percentage of votes from Latinos and African Americans that she had," said University of Miami political scientist Gregory Koger.

On the other hand white voter turnout "was higher than expected" for Trump, he said. And the Trump campaign "targeted rural voters, people in small towns, and they turnout for him in large numbers."

For Daniel Smith at the University of Florida, Clinton lost in the state for another related reason: "it was the failure to persuade white educated women," he told AFP.

"These white women, Independent, even moderate Republicans didn't necessarily like Donald Trump but they disliked Hillary more," he said.

Clinton "lost white middle class and upper middle class women," and she split the white Independent women with Trump.

Clinton was also unable to gain traction among conservative Cuban-Americans in Miami, who are reliable voters. Trump however promised to maintain the embargo against Cuba, an issue dear to their heart but behind the times given the US opening towards the communist island.

Younger Cuban-Americans are in general Democrats, or abstain from voting.

In Florida, 52 percent of Cuban-Americans voted for Trump against 47 percent for Clinton, according to exit polls by the group Latino Decision.

- Diverse community -

Lopez said that there was a nationwide "Trump effect": more Latinos came out to specifically vote against him, fueled by anger over his harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric.

But this turnout was "not as big as people said it would be," Lopez said.

Nevertheless, the Latino vote has "grown in importance, and it continues to have a bigger role in a campaign."

Looking at demographic trends "that will continue for at least 20 years," he said.

And yet, there is no monolithic Latino vote in the United States. The community is geographically and politically diverse.

Indeed, more than half of US Hispanics are Mexican-American.

Yet not all Latinos are immigrants, and not all are Mexicans.

For example Cubans, who have enjoyed a special immigration status since the 1960s, were not offended by Trump's talk about Mexico sending "criminals, drug dealers, rapists."

Twenty-five percent of third-generation Latinos even support building a wall on the US border with Mexico, and also support Trump's proposal for a mass deportation of undocumented migrants.

They also tend to be more conservative, and to be less religious than other Latinos.