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Could this be the election that ends the "Latino vote"?

No, I'm not talking about actual voters. I'm talking about the way many of us routinely talk or write about the "Latino vote" or "Hispanic vote" in the same way that we news and opinion workers typically talk about the "Black vote."

The confusion comes in when we invest more of a sense of tribal unity in our racial-ethnic labels than the labels deserve.

Increasingly, that leads to old stereotypes being replaced by new ones that defy reality.

For example, most African Americans share an ancestry in slavery, the Great Migration, the civil rights era and other key historical turning points that shape our political attitudes today.

The term "Hispanic Americans," like Asian Americans, tries to include a wide range of nationalities and political ancestries.

The folly of those broad categories emerges as they collide with the reality of ethno-surprises such as those revealed by exit polling in the latest presidential election.

For example, contrary to widely held expectations — including some of my own — Latino voters did not rise up en masse or with near-unanimity against a president who separated Central American refugee families, dissed Mexicans as "rapists," tossed paper towels to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Ricans and insists that we're "rounding the corner" on a coronavirus pandemic that continues disproportionately to victimize Black and Latino Americans.

Instead, about a third of Latino voters supported President Donald Trump, according to exit polls by the AP's VoteCast, conducted with the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, which is about the same Hispanic percentage that Republican candidates have received in other recent presidential races.

Less dramatic but still significant was Trump's building his Black support to double digits, a first for a Republican candidate since President George H.W. Bush in the 1980s. Exit polls by Edison Research for the National Election Pool found 18% of Black men voted for Trump and 8% of Black women did the same.

Trump fared less well in traditionally Democratic Illinois, winning only 5% of the Black vote and 23% of Latinos, according to AP's VoteCast.

Contrast that with pivotal Florida, where south Florida's historically conservative Cuban American community has been joined by Venezuelans and other escapees from Latin American unrest. Trump's campaign focused on their outrage over the idea of Democratic "socialism" and, helped along by some late aid to Puerto Ricans in central Florida, apparently paid off in a state so unpredictable that a one- or-two-point swing is called a "landslide."

In short, labels like "Black vote" and "Latino vote" can blur our vision to a world's worth of diversity.

President-elect Joe Biden's campaign seemed sometimes to discover that the hard way.

Remember, for example, when he was questioned sternly by a Black student in a televised Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, town hall in October as to what he had to offer young Black voters "besides 'you ain't Black.' "

That was a reference to Biden's breathtaking gaffe on Charlamagne Tha God's "The Breakfast Club" program when he said in a peculiar parting shot, "If you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't Black."

Trumpers eagerly helped that unforced error to go viral, along with Biden's earlier tough-on-crime positions, as evidence of Democrats' taking Black voters for granted.

The remark was particularly damaging in opening up a generational divide with young Black male voters, a group with which Trump in his own way had been making cultural inroads since the 1990s. After his Atlantic City casinos collapsed along with his creditworthiness on Wall Street, Trump cozied up to the prospering hip-hop community, including P Diddy and other rap stars, dozens of whom name-checked him in their lyrics as an iconic image of gaudy affluence and swagger.

Years later, we have seen this relationship revived in his dialogues with Kanye West and Ice Cube, among others who endorsed his "Platinum Plan" for Black American economic development.

Imagine how well Trump might have done as a candidate if he had started that dialogue earlier.

Labels like "Black vote" and "Latino vote" can be helpful in understanding group dynamics, but don't get carried away. As I've often said, racial-ethnic communities have a variety of people, many of whom share conservative and Republican values. Don't shortchange people today who could provide your margin of victory tomorrow.

Clarence Page is a syndicated columnist with the Chicago Tribune.

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