Democrats have started to worry about polls that show former vice president Joe Biden doing worse among Hispanic voters than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. Most punditry ascribes that to Biden’s presumed weakness. The data, though, suggest President Trump’s own appeal is the cause.

Analysts and partisan strategists have long assumed Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric and hard-line immigration policies would alienate Hispanic voters. There’s some evidence that it did in 2016. Trump fared worse among Hispanic voters than did 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney in Florida and California, which together made up more than a third of the U.S. Hispanic population. Trump did better than Romney, however, in many other states, and the national exit poll found that he lost among Hispanics by only 38 points, compared with Romney’s 44-point deficit.

Data from 2018 also provide evidence the reigning narrative is flawed. Florida’s Hispanic voters moved sharply toward Republicans, with Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis losing Hispanics by only 10 points and Republican Senate candidate Rick Scott losing them by only 9 points. Their improvement on Trump’s 27-point deficit among Florida Hispanics is why both men narrowly defeated their Democratic rivals.

Trump’s job approval ratings this year among Hispanics have also been much better than the traditional narrative would suggest, as polling data for Hispanics on the RealClearPolitics average demonstrate. Trump’s net job approval this year was at a high point nationally in February, save for a brief blip caused by the “rally round the flag” phenomenon right after the novel coronavirus hit. His net job approval rating among Hispanics then was negative 26 points. That’s much lower than the 38 points Trump lost Hispanics by in 2016.

Trump’s larger-than-expected strength among this demographic has continued to this day. Trump’s polling low point was roughly in the second week of July; his net job approval among Hispanics then was negative 32 points. His job approval has risen since then overall and among Hispanics. As of Thursday afternoon, his net job approval among Hispanics in polls taken since Aug. 28 is negative 28 points, nearly the same as it was in February. That’s exactly the margin by which Biden leads among Hispanics, according to a recent analysis by noted election analyst Harry Enten.

This is surely not a coincidence. Analysis shows that a president’s job approval in his reelection campaign is an excellent predictor of his final share of the popular vote. Currently, 33 percent of Hispanics approve of Trump’s performance as president; it would be shocking if his share of that demographic’s vote were significantly lower than this. If Trump gets 33 percent of the Hispanic vote on Election Day, it would be the highest share of the Hispanic vote for a Republican nominee since George W. Bush won 44 percent of the demographic in 2004.

Bush’s showing provides a clue as to why Trump might be doing better than expected. Both Ronald Reagan and Bush saw notable increases in their Hispanic vote totals in their successful reelection bids. Even Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, did relatively better among Hispanics in his failed 1992 reelection bid, losing them by 39 points that year vs. losing them by 36 points in 1988 (despite Bush Sr. going from winning in 1988 overall by 8 points to losing the 1992 race to Bill Clinton by 6 points overall). All three men presided over strong economies for Latino voters while also sounding nationalist themes in foreign policy. Trump is nationalism personified, and median income among Hispanic voters had soared by nearly 29 percent since 2013, a higher gain than experienced by Whites, Blacks or Asians. With this backdrop, the punditry’s shock over Hispanic polling data is the only real surprise.

Cuban voters have particular reason to think well of Trump and poorly of Democrats. Cubans are largely refugees from Fidel Castro’s Communist regime or their descendants. While Biden has not expressed sympathy for the dictatorship, leading liberals such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) have. Cubans can see that many Democrats view the Castro regime much more benignly than they do and apparently believe this is more important than other issues. Republicans lead in recent polls in two Cuban-dominated Florida congressional districts captured by Democrats in 2018, a sign that Cuban Americans are moving back to the Republicans.

Team Biden will surely make a greater effort to more actively compete for the Hispanic vote. The consistent pro-Trump, pro-GOP polling and election data, though, show that likely won’t help them as much as they think.

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