Why Hispanics are the least fearful about 2016 election

A recent Gallup poll reveals that whites and blacks are far more concerned about the election than Hispanics, despite Trump calling for mass deportation and a wall along the US-Mexico border.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Amilcar Ramirez holds a US flag as protesters gather to speak out against stricter immigration law near the White House on May 1, 2010.

Since announcing his candidacy for president, Donald Trump has called Mexicans "rapists" and "criminals." He supports deporting as many as 11 million unauthorized immigrants. He has blamed Hispanics for taking American jobs and vowed to build a wall on the US-Mexico border. 

Yet Hispanics are the least fearful of the upcoming election, according to a recent Gallup survey.

“Well, he’s not Hugo Chavez,” offers George Castillo, who immigrated to Boston from Peru 45 years ago and now works on Copley Square selling drinks and hot dogs.

Republican presidential candidates have long been unwelcoming to Hispanics, taking some of the shock value out of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric. But the Latino demographic also has a more positive outlook on US politics compared to their peers, attesting to their commitment to a US political system that does not always support them back. 

To be sure, Mr. Castillo calls Trump “disgusting,” “stupid,” and “a disappointment.” But he says he’s felt disgusted by other US politicians too. 

“Immigrants pay more attention to the dynamics and specifics [of immigration policy],” says Gabriel Sanchez, a professor at the University of New Mexico and a principal at Latino Decisions, “and they don’t see much of a difference from the last election cycle.”

'They aren't surprised by it'

Trump may have a more hard-edge presentation of deportation, say experts, but the overall message isn’t all that different from other Republican presidential contenders.

“If you’re Hispanic, and you see a headline that someone said something racist about Hispanics, that’s kind of old news….They see it, they get it, but they aren’t surprised by it,” says Stephen Nuño, a professor of American and Latino politics at Northern Arizona University. “For most Hispanics, it’s not a total shocker that the Republican Party is supporting racist comments.” 

In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney advocated for “self-deportation” as an alternative to rounding people up. Under this practice, the government would make it increasingly difficult for undocumented immigrants to find jobs, thus forcing them to return home of their own volition.

“We don’t have to go too far back in other elections” to find even more examples of Republican candidates’ anti-immigrant policies, adds Christine Sierra, director of the University of New Mexico’s Southwest Hispanic Research Institute. 

Republican presidential candidate John McCain, a senator from Arizona, garnered criticism in 2008 for walking back previous efforts to legalize millions of immigrants, instead advocating for strong borders as the country’s top priority. And Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, a Cuban-American, similarly disappointed Hispanic voters during his presidential campaign in 2016, announcing his plans to revoke Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) on his first day in office. 

‘He’s not going to win’

Only 38 percent of Hispanics say they strongly fear the outcome of the election, says Gallup, compared with 64 percent of black adults and about half of all white adults. 

Latinos might not be as worried because they don’t think Trump stands a chance.

“Yes, the US would go down if Trump wins,” says Mr. Castillo, pointing his thumb towards the sidewalk. “But he’s not going to win…. He’s not for the people.” 

Mr. Sanchez says that certainty stems from Latino optimism.

“By any optimism measure, Latinos are always more optimistic and this fits in line with that narrative," he says. "They look at the US as this beacon of hope for democracy.”

And Dr. Sierra says the “ugly xenophobia” rising up in the US may fuel Hispanics’ natural grit. 

“They could say, ‘We’ve been here, we’ve done a whole lot to secure our status in this county, and we’re not giving up now.’ ” 

Why discrimination could fuel Hispanic turnout

But that’s not to say Hispanics ignore Trump’s anti-immigrant sentiments. Maria Lamdaberde, who works at a small Mexican restaurant in South Boston, says she is apprehensive about the presidential election.

“They say a lot of things, like deport all the people,” she says. “We have family here, you know? We are worried. We don’t know what will happen.”

“I don’t think you can interpret this as, ‘Latinos and Hispanics aren’t concerned about the divisive rhetoric,’ ” says John Tuman, chair of the political science department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He adds that plenty of survey evidence shows “it’s having an obvious effect.”

There are 55 million Hispanics in the US, about 17 percent of the nation’s overall population. The number of registered Hispanic voters in 2016 is a record 27.3 million – a share greater than any other group of minority voters, reports Pew Research. 

Gladys Vega, executive director of Chelsea Collaborative, an organization in Chelsea, Mass., that helps encourage political advocacy among the local Latino community, says discrimination against Latinos will only fuel future voter turnout.

“Latinos have achieved a lot in the United States,” says Ms. Vega. “They may be ignored at their work sites, their rights may be violated in a factory because they don’t speak English, they may no longer know that the minimum wage is $8. But once you educate them, they are strong....They know that when they vote, they have power. And they can win.”

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