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Why it matters that Tim Kaine speaks Spanish

His Spanish fluency could allow him to reach those Hispanic voters who don't speak English well in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania – states critical to any presidential candidate
28 Jul 2016 – 12:15 PM EDT

Latinos who don’t speak English or don’t speak it well

1

10

1,000

100,000

4M

2M

100

10,000

1 million

3M

Latinos who don’t speak English or don’t speak it well

1

10

100

1,000

100,000

2M

4M

10,000

1 million

3M

Latinos who don’t speak English or don’t speak it well

1

10

100

1,000

100,000

2M

4M

3M

10,000

1 million

WA

NH

MT

ME

ND

VT

MN

OR

ID

MA

NY

WI

SD

WY

MI

IA

PA

NV

NE

OH

IN

IL

UT

WV

CO

VA

CA

MO

KS

KY

NC

TN

OK

AZ

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GA

MS

LA

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FL

HI

Latinos who don’t speak English or don’t speak it well

1

10

100

1,000

100,000

2M

4M

3M

10,000

1 million

WA

NH

ME

MT

ND

VT

MN

OR

MA

ID

NY

WI

SD

WY

MI

IA

PA

NV

NE

OH

IN

IL

UT

WV

CO

VA

CA

MO

KS

KY

NC

TN

OK

AZ

SC

AR

NM

AL

GA

MS

LA

TX

AK

FL

HI

Latinos who don’t speak English or don’t speak it well

1

10

100

1,000

100,000

2M

4M

3M

10,000

1 million

WA

NH

ME

MT

ND

VT

MN

OR

MA

ID

NY

WI

SD

WY

MI

IA

PA

NV

NE

OH

IN

IL

UT

WV

CO

VA

CA

MO

KS

KY

NC

TN

OK

AZ

SC

AR

NM

AL

GA

MS

LA

TX

AK

FL

HI

SOURCE: 2014 U.S. Census | UNIVISION

In his first appearance as a vice presidential candidate, Tim Kaine began his speech Saturday in Spanish. “ Bienvenidos,” he said. “Welcome to everyone in our country. Yes! Because we're all Americans!”

Analysts immediately questioned whether Kaine's Spanish was important for Hillary Clinton's presidential hopes. “For younger Hispanics (...) speaking Spanish is not a litmus test for 'Latinidad,' or Latin identity,” Ed O'Keefe wrote in the Washington Post.

Hispanics in the United States -- the majority of whom speak English -- are concerned with the same issues as other U.S. voters, such as the economy, polls show. But according to U.S. census figures, 9.4 million Hispanics living in the United States do not speak English well or at all.

Kaine’s bilingualism could be a key factor in winning over those Latinos, especially in the three key swing states (Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania) that could decide the election.


Hispanics in swing states
Number of Latinos registered to vote in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania in 2014.
StateHispanic citizensRegistered Hispanic votersPercentage of Hispanic citizens registered to vote
Florida2,480,0001,493,00060.20%
Ohio157,00093,00058.90%
Pennsylvania540,000260,00048.10%
SOURCE: U.S. Census | UNIVISION

Florida, the state that decided the 2000 election

In Florida, every vote counts. Its importance in presidential elections was never clearer than in 2000, when George W. Bush beat Al Gore to win the state – and the White House – by a margin of 537 votes.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump currently leads Clinton, his Democratic Party opponent, in Florida by a 42-39 margin, according to a Quinnipiac poll this month.


Non-English speaking Latinos in Florida
Number of Hispanics in each county who don't speak English or speak it poorly.

Escambia

1,200

Duval

8,556

Orange

49,087

Bay

925

Hillsborough

55,936

Palm Beach

58,732

Broward

78,499

Miami Dade

484,314

Number of Latinos

1

10

100

1,000

100,000

10,000

1 million

Duval

8,556

Escambia

1,200

Bay

925

Dixie

48

Orange

49,087

Hillsborough

55,936

Palm Beach

58,732

Broward

78,499

Number of Latinos

Miami Dade

484,314

1

10

100

1,000

100,000

1 million

10,000

Duval

8,556

Escambia

1,200

Bay

925

Dixie

48

Orange

49,087

Hillsborough

55,936

Palm Beach

58,732

Broward

78,499

Number of Latinos

Miami Dade

484,314

1

10

100

1,000

100,000

10,000

1 million

SOURCE: 2014 U.S. Census | UNIVISION

Miami-Dade is one of the Florida counties that could give Clinton a victory come November. It’s the only county that Trump did not win in the March primary. Sen. Marco Rubio won his home turf with 63 per cent of the vote, and Trump trailed with 21 percent.

Kaine's Spanish therefore could help Clinton in Florida's most populous and most Hispanic county, where more than 484,000 Hispanics (50.6 percent of the total) do not speak English well.


In that bastion of Cuban voters, who tend to support Republican candidates, Clinton won 75 percent of the votes cast in the Democratic primary. A Univision Noticias analysis of primary results showed Clinton did well in counties with large numbers of Hispanics who speak Spanish at home.

A Clinton victory in Miami-Dade come November could underscore the growing power of Hispanic Democrats in the county. Although the county has more Hispanic Republicans than Hispanic Democrats – 260,000 vs. 213,000 – the number of Hispanic Democrats registered to vote increased by 62 percent in the last 10 years, while the Hispanic Republicans remained at about the same level, according to Pew data.

Although Trump did not win Miami-Dade county in March, he did win in all other Florida counties, including some where many Hispanic families speak only Spanish at home, such as Okeechobee, DeSoto, Osceola, Broward and Palm Beach.

A tight race in Ohio

In Ohio, another key state in the presidential contest, the Quinnipiac poll showed Clinton and Trump tied at 41 percent among those who say they intend to vote.

The state's importance is due to the fact that it has always voted for the winner in recent presidential contests, regardless of party. Ohio went for Republicans Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, as well as Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.


Non-English speaking Latinos in Ohio
Number of Hispanics in each county who don't speak English or speak it poorly.

Cuyahoga

6,255

Lucas

1,091

Lorain

2,219

Butler

2,628

Mahoning

1,551

Franklin

10,632

Hamilton

3,763

Number of Latinos

1

10

100

1,000

100,000

10,000

1 million

Lorain

2,219

Lucas

1,091

Cuyahoga

6,255

Huron

847

Mahoning

1,551

Butler

2,628

Tuscarawas

664

Hamilton

3,763

Number of Latinos

Franklin

10,632

1

10

100

1,000

100,000

10,000

1 million

Lorain

2,219

Lucas

1,091

Cuyahoga

6,255

Huron

847

Mahoning

1,551

Tuscarawas

664

Butler

2,628

Number of Latinos

Hamilton

3,763

Franklin

10,632

1

10

100

1,000

100,000

10,000

1 million

SOURCE: 2014 U.S. Census | UNIVISION

The largest number of Hispanics who do not speak English well are concentrated in Franklin county, home of the state capital, Columbus. Trump won 64 percent of the vote there during the GOP primary, his highest tally anywhere in Ohio.

Trump did well in counties with large populations of Hispanics who speak Spanish at home, according to the Univision Noticias analysis.

Ohio also has symbolic value for Trump, because he was officially nominated as a presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Pennsylvania, home of the Democratic Convention

The third critical state is Pennsylvania, where Trump leads Clinton 43-41 among those who intend to vote, according to the Quinnipiac poll.

The largest numbers of Hispanics who do not speak English well in Pennsylvania live in Philadelphia, where the Democratic National Convention is being held this week.


Non-English speaking Latinos in Pennsylvania
Number of Hispanics in each county who don't speak English or speak it poorly.

Berks

12,419

Luzerne

5,072

Erie

675

Lehigh

9,675

Philadelphia

32,511

Lancaster

5,298

Chester

9,643

Number of Latinos

1

10

100

1,000

100,000

10,000

1 million

Berks

12,419

Erie

675

Luzerne

5,072

Lehigh

9,675

Philadelphia

32,511

Allegheny

1,340

Chester

9,643

Lancaster

5,298

Number of Latinos

1

10

100

1,000

100,000

10,000

1 million

Berks

12,419

Luzerne

5,072

Erie

675

Lehigh

9,675

Philadelphia

32,511

Allegheny

1,340

Chester

9,643

Lancaster

5,298

Number of Latinos

1

10

100

1,000

100,000

10,000

1 million

SOURCE: 2014 U.S. Census | UNIVISION

Philadelphia County gave Clinton her biggest victory during the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, with 63 percent of the vote. Trump also won the county in the Republican primary, with 57 percent of the vote.

The importance of language

Do Hispanics really care if they are addressed in Spanish?

“Any time someone runs for political office and can communicate directly [with voters], that is highly important,” said Esteban Garces, Florida state director for the voter education group Mi Familia Vota – My family votes. “I think it will [matter to voters], depending on how the two parties show themselves in Florida, and their platforms.”

Only 26 percent of Hispanic voters in the United States said that a candidate's ability to speak Spanish would influence their vote in November, according to a June 2015 poll of 1,400 Hispanic voters, commissioned by Univision.

But the figure rose to nearly 40 percent when the pollsters counted only those voters who said they spoke better Spanish than English.

“Obviously, speaking Spanish is not the only factor for deciding to back a candidate,” wrote Maribel Hastings, an immigration expert with America's Voice, a Spanish-language news and analysis portal on immigration. “In fact, it doesn't move the majority of Hispanic voters. But it does matter to one segment.”

Data visualization by Mariano Zafra, Amaya Verde, Luis Melgar and Antonio Cucho.

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