By Franco Ordonez
July 25, 2016
Donald Trump may be hurting badly in polls of Latino voters, but he could still win the presidency if enough Latino voters don’t feel compelled to go to the polls and wait in line to cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton.
“We’re talking to people. They’re totally with us on Trump is hateful. Trump is scary,” said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director at America’s Voice, an advocacy group.
But her canvass of minority voters around Cleveland during last week’s Republican National Convention left her worried. “Some people say that ‘I’m just not going to vote because I don’t see an alternative I can support.’ That’s really scary. Because if people don’t vote, then Donald Trump can get elected,” she said.
On Saturday, Hillary Clinton introduced her pick for vice president, Tim Kaine, at Florida International University. He addressed the Miami crowd in Spanish, reflecting the importance the Clinton campaign has placed on the Latino vote and on immigration as an issue.
Clinton is expected to strike a much different tone at this week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia than Trump did when he described a country under siege by those here illegally during his acceptance speech in Cleveland.
“We are going to build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities,” Trump said.
But whether Clinton’s promises to build bridges, not walls, will mobilize Latino voters for her is uncertain, even as recent polls find little support for the Republican nominee. Eighty-two percent of Latino voters have unfavorable views of Trump, according to polling by Telemundo, NBC News and The Wall Street Journal.
Historically, Latinos vote in far lower numbers than blacks and other minority groups. Less than half, 48 percent, of eligible Latino voters cast ballots in the 2012 presidential election, compared with 67 percent of blacks and 64 percent of whites.
The Latino vote is poised to have a large impact on the 2016 presidential election. At 27.3 million registered voters, they now make up 12 percent of registered voters – nearly as large a percentage of the voting population as African-Americans, according to the Pew Research Center.
Latinos and other minority voters are essential if Democrats want to carry swing states such as Nevada, Colorado and possibly Florida and North Carolina. But not if they stay home.
Trump’s rhetoric has woken up the Latino community, said Felipe Benitez, a director at Mi Familia Vota, which is organizing registration drives in Latino communities across the country. But he said the community lacked knowledge about voting, including registration deadlines.
“Anger is not enough. If you don’t register and you show up on the day of the election, you’re not going to be able to vote,” Benitez said. “It’s as good as nothing.”
Clinton is saying the types of things immigration supporters want to hear. But Trump may be banking on Latinos having long memories. Clinton’s past positions on immigration raise questions about what she actually believes and what she’ll say to get elected.
She now says she’ll introduce immigration legislation in her first 100 days in office, but she voted as a senator to construct hundreds of miles of fencing along the Mexican border.
Some also may associate the former first lady and secretary of state with her husband’s 1996 immigration enforcement law, which imposed a 10-year bar on legal immigration on those who were caught entering the U.S. illegally.
Benjamin Johnson, the executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said it might be unfair to tie Hillary Clinton with the 10-year bar that President Bill Clinton signed into law, but that from a brand perspective the Clinton name was – like it or not – associated with those “harsh approaches.”
Some scholars argue that the 1996 law had as big, if not a bigger, impact on the size of the population here illegally because it stopped the circular migration between the United States and Mexico and other countries. Those who were here stopped going back south because they feared not being able to return.
“So I think immigration activists are concerned that it’ll be difficult to turn people out in favor of Hillary,” Johnson said.
For years, the conventional wisdom has been that Republicans need at least 40 percent of the Latino vote to win a presidential election. That’s based on the 2004 election, when George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote and beat then-Sen. John Kerry.
If Trump wins while calling for an almost militarized border, it would be a huge setback for advocates who argue that you can’t win national office with that kind of angry rhetoric. But Johnson said it was possible if Clinton were unable to attract Latino voters. Trump has already shown an ability to inspire a new class of conservative voters that could offset historical trends.
“I’ve been around politics,” Johnson said. “I never want to be in a position where I’m turning people out to oppose someone. It’s always better to turn someone out in support of people.”
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