The Impact of the Hispanic Vote on Battleground States

How Donald Trump’s anti-Hispanic rhetoric could hurt him in the general election

Just before the Democratic primary in California, Nate Silver noted that the variation in polls was likely related to how well they captured the Hispanic vote.

Three recent surveys from highly rated polling firms (Marist College, Field and Public Policy Institute of California) show Bernie Sanders just 2 points behind Hillary Clinton in California. Clinton is ahead by double digits, however, in other polls, including one that has her up by 18 percentage points. It’s making for another confusing finish in a primary season that has already had plenty of them. And it’s an indication of how little we know about how Hispanic Democrats (and Asian-American Democrats) are voting this year.

There are several reasons why it has been difficult for polls to capture the Hispanic vote accurately. First is that, as a growing portion of the electorate, they will have more impact in some states than they used to. So it’s a new phenomenon to pay attention to. It is also true that Hispanics have traditionally had low turn-out rates. When/if that changes, old models will no longer be accurate. Silver points out something else that is important to keep in mind.

The Hispanic vote is not monolithic; Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and other groups all vote somewhat differently from one another. Age can matter a lot: Clinton performs well among older Hispanics while Sanders does well among younger ones. The predominantly Spanish-speaking Hispanic population can vote differently from the English-speaking Hispanic population. All of this can make it dangerous to extrapolate results from one state to another. But it also makes it tricky for the polls, which often have small sample sizes for ethnic subgroups and trouble reaching a representative sample of Hispanic voters.

As an aside, the same is true for Asian Americans and increasingly African Americans (with growing numbers of immigrants) as well.

For Hispanic Americans, Cubans have traditionally been more Republican. But as new generations with no actual history on the island come of voting age, that has been changing in a way that has affected politics in Florida. That will no doubt also be impacted by President Obama’s move to open our relationship with Cuba.

The final factor in this particular election is the way in which the Republican Party completely trashed their own autopsy report after the 2012 election with its recommendations about better outreach to the Hispanic community. Instead, their presumptive nominee has trashed Mexican immigrants and suggested that a judge with Mexican heritage is unqualified. This week, David Wickert tells us how that is having an impact in Georgia.

Gutierrez is part of a recent surge in Latino voter registration in Georgia, one that many attribute to Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee. Some 16,254 Latinos joined the state’s roll of active voters from October to April, an increase of nearly 20 percent, according to records maintained by the Secretary of State’s Office.

Latino advocates say the presidential race – and the anti-immigrant tone of Trump’s campaign – is a big motivator for many new voters. Increased Hispanic voter registration also has been reported in other states. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials projects that 13.1 million Latinos will cast ballots nationwide in the November election – up 17 percent from 2012…

Right now, Latinos account for just 2.1 percent of the Georgia’s 4.9 million active voters, but Gonzalez expects the pace of registration to pick up as the November election approaches.

“What we’ve seen is nothing compared to what we’ll see in September and October,” he said.

That 2.1 percent might not sound like a lot. But in 2008, McCain only won the state by 5.2 percent. So a big jump in Hispanic numbers (combined with strong African American turnout) could put this Southern Bible-belt state in play as a real battleground.

What Wickert is reporting from Georgia is something we’re consistently hearing about all over the country — Hispanics are applying for citizenship and registering to vote in record numbers. There are a lot of states where that won’t have a big impact. But it is clearly changing the dynamic in Florida and Colorado (battlegrounds of the past). You have to wonder about states like Georgia, Arizona, and yes — even Texas. Those will be the battlegrounds of the future. The only question is whether or not that happens this year, thanks in large part to Donald Trump. I don’t expect we’ll have the answer to that question until election day because — as Silver pointed out — the polls will be all over the map on the Hispanic vote.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.