By Francis Wilkinson
October 26, 2016
How Hispanics vote in November -- and in what numbers -- is a key to the presidential election and to the future of both political parties. Donald Trump's courtship of the American electorate, after all, began with an attack on Mexicans. His provocations didn't end there.
If Hispanics, who historically have low rates of voting, fail to turn out, or support Hillary Clinton less enthusiastically than they did Barack Obama, Trump's offenses will appear to have been forgiven, on the way, ultimately, to being forgotten. If Clinton wins Hispanics in a landslide, however, she will almost certainly be president, and Republicans will be facing a daunting obstacle, potentially for years to come.
According to the Pew Research Center, the number of eligible Hispanic voters will be about 40 percent higher in 2016 than it was in 2008. About 11 million Hispanics voted in 2012, when Hispanic turnout was slightly below 50 percent, which was close to normal. About 27 million will be eligible to vote in November, with the growth mostly coming not from immigration but from Hispanic citizens entering adulthood -- at a rate of 800,000 annually.
If Clinton falters with these voters, even in victory, Republicans will have an opportunity to heal some self-inflicted wounds after shedding Trump. But if Clinton matches or exceeds Obama's share of Hispanic voters, about 71 percent in 2012, it will mark the third presidential election in a row in which Democrats dominate. How many landslides does it take for a generation or more of Hispanics to shut out the GOP for good?
Surveys of Hispanic voters reflect vast disparities. Among polls taken this October alone, RealClearPolitics.com shows the Hispanic vote ranging from a modest 10-point Clinton advantage over Trump to a gap of 53 points in her favor. In the first poll, by Economist/YouGov, Clinton may be heading for trouble in important swing states, including Florida and Nevada. In the second, by Latino Decisions, she has a bigger margin among Hispanics than Obama had over Mitt Romney in 2012.
In an analysis of earlier poll disparities, Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz said that a 28-point difference in the Hispanic vote would translate into a 2 to 3 point difference in the national vote. The difference between the October Economist/YouGov and Latino Decisions polls is 43 points, or perhaps 4 points in a national election, larger than Obama's margin of victory in 2012.
Abramowitz, in an e-mail, pointed out that Latino Decisions has an "excellent" track record from 2012 and that its large margin for Clinton has been supported by other polls that also used large samples of Hispanics, conducted interviews in both Spanish and English and employed other techniques designed to obtain more representative voter samples. (Latino Decisions principals Matt Barreto and Gary Segura are advising the Clinton campaign. "We are completely firewalled off from the rest of our firm this cycle," Barreto told me in an e-mail.)
A presentation by Latino Decisions pollster Gabriel Sanchez pointed out that 2010 Senate polls in Nevada and Colorado, both of which have large Hispanic populations, generally underestimated Democratic support. (Democrats won both contests.) Many polls similarly undercounted Obama's Hispanic support in 2012.
The trajectory of the fast-growing Hispanic vote will help determine not just party power but party dynamics for years. Republicans have long anticipated a burst of Hispanic support, arguing that socially conservative Hispanics are a natural GOP constituency. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both Cuban, were expected to be the vanguard of this new voting bloc, resuming the progress the GOP made among Hispanics under Texan George W. Bush.
Perhaps that development has only been postponed by Trump; soon the Hispanics' vote will grow less lopsided. Or perhaps more of them will come to view themselves as white, and identify with the party that caters to white cultural nostalgia in various forms.
Trump's candidacy, however, has crystallized a more pressing possibility. If the GOP can't extract racial conservatism from its brand of social conservatism, the party is in danger of being swamped by nonwhite votes in November and for years to come. It doesn’t take much effort to imagine such an outcome compounding the GOP's troubles, intensifying white resentment and thus making it even harder to diversify the party.
November will be a big tell. Some private polls suggest that Clinton's lead among Hispanics is nowhere near the Latino Decisions range. If the Latino Decisions end of the polling spectrum is correct, however, the 2017 Republican autopsy promises to be a doozy.
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