The rise of the Hispanic vote has been the white whale of both Democrats and Republicans. Democrats have claimed they will fuel a blue America while Republicans argue their whitening and culturally conservative values will turn them to the right. We know which tact Trump takes on the issue. On January 20th, Trump tweeted his approval with Hispanics had reached 50 percent (amid the government shutdown). Admittedly, the poll showing such an approval rating for Trump had a high margin of error among Hispanics.
But, the skepticism of such a claim also had to do with the general narrative with the idea the man who had called Mexicans “rapists,” ordered refugee kids separated and who shut down the government over building a wall, could have any support among the vilified community. Yet, Trump had a point. It might not be the bravado, “Wow, just heard that my poll numbers with Hispanics has gone up 19%, to 50%. That is because they know the Border issue better than anyone, and they want Security, which can only be gotten with a Wall,” but he hardly had rock-bottom numbers with Hispanics either.
So, when the pollsters responsible for the data Trump touted, Marist and PBS, cautioned of the high margin of error among the demographic sample, many on the left dismissed it as an anomaly. Yet, whether they do it or not the Trump campaign is clearly making a play for Hispanic voters in Florida and beyond. Contrary to the “how can it be narrative,” there is data to suggest Trump has inroads with the demographic group. If deep enough, Hispanics might be the reason why Republicans hold the Senate and Trump is reelected. Talk about a cruel twist of fate after 2018.
Democrats have staked their fate on a diversifying America. So losing to a “backward” GOP candidate because they lost a key part of the emerging American electorate coalition would be staggering, especially since the rhetoric and actions of the GOP candidate should be driving these voters into the Democrats arms.
On the surface, the rosy theories of the “The Emerging Democratic Majority” look true. The 2020 election should be the first election where Hispanics make up the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the electorate. Pew estimates 32 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote, about two million more than black voters, and more than 13 percent of the entire electorate. At worse, Hispanics should make up no less than 11 percent of the 2020 electorate.
But, just because more Hispanics vote does not mean only one party benefits. Many expected Hispanics to turn against Trump in mass in 2016. A Latino Decisions survey on the eve of the Presidential election found Trump winning a mere 18 percent of Hispanics. But, in actuality, Trump won 28 percent in exit polls. Many pundits and analysts refused to believe it until later studies confirmed Trump did just as well among this group as Romney and only one point worse than immigration reform advocate John McCain. Combined with blue-collar whites, it gave Trump an electoral college squeaker.
Now, the above points to a brutal truth for Democrats: if Hispanic approval of Trump is surging, or at a minimum hovering around 30 percent, Trump could quietly be on his way to coasting to reelection. In fact, he could even come close to Bush’s 40 percent number in 2004. If Trump did that well with Hispanics it would put Florida, Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina out of reach for the party. Assuming Trump does not bleed blue-collar support because of this, he arguably could hold Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. He would also make Democrats play defense in Colorado, Arizona and even New Mexico. Not even Democratic support among college educated white women can make up for such a crucial loss among their coalition.
If Democrats can hardly win the White House without Hispanic support, control of the Senate is an impossibility. Democrats need a minimum of three seats (four if Trump holds the White House), to retake the Senate, and this means they need to defeat Corey Gardner in Colorado, Martha McSally in Arizona, David Perdue in Georgia and likely Jon Cornyn in Texas. Oh, by the way, this assumes Doug Jones in Alabama miraculously pulls off a miracle for Democrats. Gardner won about 40 percent of the vote in 2014 and McSally lost last year with only 30 percent of the Hispanic vote. Texan Hispanics are more Republican than both prior states. A drop-off in Democratic support would make it impossible for Democrats to win these needed states for Senate control.
What the Numbers Say
A recent Politico/Morning Consult survey found Trump’s approval rebounding to 45 percent, with Hispanics at 42 percent. Even if we assume the high margin of error drops Trump’s numbers among the group, the trend line is ominous for the party in blue. Other polls put Trump in the mid 30’s among the group. An Economist survey found 32 percent of Hispanics approving of the President, and Harris X had it at 35 percent. In mid-January, Reuters had it at 36 percent.
Trump’s approval among Hispanics sat at around 35 percent through 2018, per previous Politico surveys, but about ten points above Reuters and Gallup. Regardless of which prior surveys were right, the newer polls do indicate the trend line is moving positive, not negative. At worse, it is holding steady.
The lengths pollsters have to go to explain the poll numbers is quite impressive. Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, said this does not automatically equal votes. Despite the 50 percent approval, only 27 percent of Hispanics said they would vote for Trump while 58 percent definitely would not. Still, the 27 percent is equal to prior GOP performances and it is hard to see, if true, the remaining Hispanic approvers not voting for the President come election day. Indeed, as we are constantly reminded, a President’s general support at the polls for his reelection correlates closely with his approval rating.
Moreover, there appears to be room for growth. Morning Consult’s polling has shown Trump was at 40 percent approval among Hispanics in his first year. The President’s biggest drop-offs were among women and college educated whites. Polls have missed Trump’s strength among the group in the past. There is no reason to think they cannot again.
Why Hispanics Like Trump?
It is easy to assume Hispanics disapprove of Trump who derides immigrants and refugees. But, that is not reality. Rather, Trump understands Hispanics are a large, diverse group which rarely acts as a monolithic group.
Contrary to the narrative a diversifying electorate hinders Trump, more Hispanics are acting like naturalized Americans. Two-thirds of the Hispanic electorate is born in the US, and natural born Hispanics are far more likely to approve of Trump than immigrants. Of course, Hispanics are less supportive of Trump than whites, but Trump does not need 60 percent Hispanic support to win. He just needs to peel off enough to win.
Part of why Hispanics might be more supportive of Trump than originally thought is because fewer Hispanics identify as liberal compared to other groups. For example, Hispanics only make up 12 percent of those who identify as Democratic or lean Democratic but they are 22 percent of the party who describe themselves as moderate or conservative. Hispanics are also far more likely to identify as Catholic and culturally conservative than other Democratic groups.
After the 2018 elections, there is evidence Trump’s reelection is pivoting from the Wall and immigrant bashing to more traditional issues such as a strong economy and characterizing Democrats as extreme leftists. Trump, and other GOP leaders, are already criticizing Democrats on abortion, taxes, climate change and healthcare. Indeed, Trump is on board with forcing Democrats to vote on the “Green New Deal” and is gleefully watching almost every declared presidential candidate support Medicare For All.
Specific to Hispanics, the Trump campaign has begun to implement micro-targeting. Trump is cultivating appeal among Cuban-Americans with his strong support of overthrowing Nicolas Maduro, the dictator of Venezuela. Older Cuban-Americans are likely to rally to such a message. The Trump campaign is also making Pelosi and Schumer the poster-children of the Democratic Party. Hispanic approval of Democratic leaders is actually worse than Trump’s numbers.
It helps Democrats are doing their best to limit their appeal to this growing demographic. Case in point: Democrats are lining up to support white Texan Beto O’Rourke, and leaving actual Hispanic Julian Castro in the dust. O”Rourke is about as Texan as all the formerly white Republicans in the growing Texan suburbs.
House Democrats are not helping. Instead of focusing on immigration reform or DACA, the best they can do is oppose a wall, the issues have taken a back seat to climate change, gun control and healthcare. Certainly, these issues appeal to some Hispanics but they hardly appeal along the racial and ethnic grounds Democrats have said is their bread and butter for decades.
Ultimately, the winning argument for Trump among Hispanics might simply be the economy. Hispanic unemployment is at an all time low. Hispanic business ownership is at an all time high. Despite the rhetoric from Trump, deportations are little changed from the Obama administration’s average. Hardly hundreds of raids in Hispanic communities. Now to be fair, the good economy might be more due to Obama than Trump. But regardless, it is a powerful incentive to get wayward supporters to keep the incumbent in office.
Democrats blew Florida last year because they failed to understand a Florida Hispanic is not the same as one in Arizona, Nevada, or New Mexico. None of this suggests the Hispanic vote is a lock for Trump but neither is it a lock for Democrats. Democrats need to assume their path to the White House is harder now than it was in 2016. If not, Hispanics might just be the reason why Trump wins a second term, and (horrors) gets to replace a Justice Ginsburg.