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May 29, 2020, 11:37 a.m. EDT

Trump appeared to be gaining with Latino voters — but coronavirus may cost him crucial support

Latino business owners are seen as a critical voting bloc by both the Trump and Biden campaigns

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By Geraldo Cadava

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Because of his tax cut, four in five Latino-owned businesses expected to increase their revenue this year and many business owners, Trump said, planned to hire more workers. Because of the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), Latino-owned businesses will gain even greater access to North American markets, he said.

Over the past two months, though, coronavirus has turned the economy upside down, including for Latinos. The government’s biggest program to help small businesses suffering because of COVID-19 hasn’t really worked for Latino businesses. Almost a quarter of Latino-owned businesses applied for funds from the Paycheck Protection Program, and one survey of 500 Latino business owners found that fewer than 20% of Latino applicants received money. Many applicants never heard back.

The upshot is that 86% of Latino-owned businesses, according to another report published by the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative, has experienced “immediate negative effects” caused by COVID-19, including “loss of revenue, complete closure, loss of clients and client engagement (including contractors and employee furloughs), and project delays or postponement.”

Almost two-thirds of Latino business owners said their businesses wouldn’t be able to survive longer than six months, and more than half said they had already begun to lay off workers or reduce their hours.

In concert with the White House and the Small Business Administration, the Latino Coalition has been hosting conference calls with Latino business owners. Administration officials such as Jovita Carranza, the Mexican-American head of the SBA, has told them that her agency is spending more money than ever before, and that she personally is working around the clock for them. When the Latino business owners on the other end of the line have asked why they haven’t heard back from lenders or haven’t yet received funding, Carranza has urged patience.

But it’s unclear how long Latino business owners — seen as a critical voting bloc by both the Trump and Biden campaigns — will be patient, since their community has been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus .

It’s certainly possible that they won’t blame Trump or his administration for their woes. When they head to the polls in November, they could conclude that the coronavirus was a once-in-a-century event that Trump didn’t cause, that he worked hard for them both before and after the coronavirus hit, and that, no matter how bad for them the financial crisis has become, they would have been, and will be, worse off under a Democratic president who would raise taxes and could reimpose some of the regulations Trump has lifted.

But this would be asking a lot of them considering their plight.


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Instead, they may wonder if some of their pain could have been avoided if Trump had taken different actions, if he had demonstrated greater leadership rather than deferring to state leaders whom he pitted against one another, or if the leader had been a Democrat who might have ensured more economic stability for workers whom business owners rely on as patrons and consumers. These voters also may have been forced to lay off their employees, close their business, and face the same tough circumstances that other Americans face right now, whether it’s losing their jobs, their ability to pay for their children’s education, paying rents, losing their homes or something else.

If this is where Latino business owners land even when the economy starts to recover, they may well conclude that a Democratic alternative to President Trump wouldn’t leave them any worse off than they are at the moment.

It wouldn’t be a decision they would make lightly, since many of them have been loyal Republicans for decades, but the result would be that Trump could lose a constituency he cannot win the election without.

Geraldo Cadava is an associate professor of history and Latina and Latino studies at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and the author of “The Hispanic Republican; The shaping of an American political identity, from Nixon to Trump.” Follow him on Twitter @gerry_cadava.

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