If, as conventional wisdom would have it, capturing a sizable share of the Hispanic vote is critical to winning a general election, then Donald Trump may be doomed.
That's because The Donald has the dubious distinction of having the highest negative ratings among Hispanic voters of any major GOP hopeful, according to a new Washington Post-Univision News poll.
Some 8 in 10 Hispanic voters have an unfavorable view of Mr. Trump, and more than 7 in 10 have a “very unfavorable” impression of him, more than double the percentage of any other major candidate.
Given that Hispanics are a significant voting bloc – a record 27.3 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in 2016 – can Trump win the presidency without the Latino vote?
It will be an uphill climb, says Emily Farris, an assistant professor of political science at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
"If we look back over the last six presidential elections, only one Republican has won a majority of the vote: George W. Bush in 2004. Given this fact and that Latinos are the fastest growing demographic group in the US, it is unlikely that a Republican nominee can win the election without courting a significant number of Latino voters," says Professor Farris.
And it appears Trump's unfavorability with Hispanics has only increased with time, perhaps not surprising considering the outspoken billionaire insulted Hispanics in his declaration speech, has repeatedly vowed to build a wall along the length of the US-Mexico border, and has said he would deport 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the country.
A large swath of Latino voters cite support for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants as a decisive factor in their choice of candidate. More than 8 in 10 said they want the next president to support such a measure and 42 percent said they would not consider voting for a candidate who does not support such a policy, according to the Post-Univision poll.
This presents an interesting dilemma for the GOP: Ever since President Obama won the Hispanic vote 71 percent to 27 percent against Republican candidate Mitt Romney in 2012, the party has vowed to narrow its deficit among Latino voters. But Trump upended their plans when he burst into the race with a hardline stance on immigration that pushed nearly every candidate to the right on the issue. Today, no major GOP candidate left in the race, with the exception of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
That stance could jeopardize the GOP's path to the White House in November, according to Ben Monterroso, executive director for Mi Familia Vota, a national nonprofit organization that seeks to increase Latino civic participation.
"There is no president that can get the White House without having the Latino vote," Mr. Monterroso told the Latin Post. "You have key states that without the Latino support, the candidate is not going to win, and if those key states don't vote for the president – they're not going to make it."
And while all the GOP candidates currently perform poorly among Hispanics, Trump does the worst, losing the Hispanic vote to Clinton 73 percent to 16 percent, according to the Post-Univision poll, even wider than the 44-point margin by which Mr. Romney lost Hispanics four years ago.
It would appear Trump – and perhaps the GOP – is doomed from the outset. But not so fast.
In Nevada, the first early GOP voting state with a significant Latino population, Trump did, in fact, win the Latino vote, and by a wide margin. Trump won 45 percent of the GOP Latino vote there, according to Edison's official entrance poll. He performed even better than Marco Rubio, a Latino Republican who spent his early childhood in Nevada. Trump was quick to trumpet the coup in his victory speech, and some in the media chattered about a new voting block: Trump Latinos.
Of course, Trump's Nevada victory doesn't necessarily translate into a national one. The vast majority of Nevada Latinos vote Democratic. Only about 16 percent of the state's Hispanics vote Republican, which means only about 7 percent of Nevada Latinos actually voted for Trump – and 93 percent did not. What's more, Edison only polled 100 people, a very small sample of voters.
Nonetheless, it is possible the Hispanic vote is not as crucial to Republicans as conventional wisdom has it, say some political scientists.
"I do think its wise for Trump to be concerned about all demographics, but I don’t think it’s something his strategists believe he has to do. His campaign is banking on dissatisfied people joining the camp because fewer people see themselves as moderates anymore," says La Trice Washington, professor of political science at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.
That's because like most other voters, Hispanics are not single-issue voters, says Jim Broussard, professor of history at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Penn.
“The thing that is slipping under the radar is that the two biggest issues for all Americans are generally the economy and national security. Trump does better on those issues than any other Republican candidate," says Professor Broussard.
"As long as you think he’s going to be the best on the issue that matters to you, you’re going to overlook the stupid and offensive stuff he does. You’re not going to desert him for buffoonery if you think he’s more likely to deal with terrorism and get the economy moving. Until he’s dented on those issues, it’s going to be tough for anyone to beat him ... ”
What's more, Trump doesn't need to rely on the Hispanic vote – he might make that up by turning to other groups, say political observers.
"The Hispanic vote cannot single-handedly determine the presidency. The Republicans have a path to the White House without Hispanic voters," reports The New York Times, noting that Hispanic voters are disproportionately concentrated in noncompetitive states like Texas and California and not in battleground states that determine who wins the Electoral College.
"It would make a real difference, on the other hand, if Republicans increased their share of white voters by only a few percentage points," writes Ramesh Ponnuru for Bloomberg News.
A RealClearPolitics interactive tool that allows for simulating different election scenarios for 2016 suggests Republicans would win the popular vote and Electoral College if they took just 3.3 percent more in white voter support than Romney – something Trump seems poised to do.
“Theoretically, Republicans could win without the Latino vote if they’re making up that support somewhere else, but as a practical matter it’s not likely they could win without a third of the Latino vote, which is more than McCain and Romney got," cautions Broussard.
In other words, there may be a path forward for Trump or the GOP even without Hispanics, but it's not an easy one.