A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds a decline in the percentage of registered Latino voters who say they are “absolutely certain” that they will cast a ballot on Nov. 8., with just 69 percent saying as much this year, compared to 77 percent in 2012.
Pew pollsters found an even sharper decline among Hispanic Millennials, from 74 percent to 62 percent in 2016.
The findings may surprise some observers, given Republican candidate Donald Trump’s harsh rhetoric on immigration and promises to carry out mass deportations of the undocumented – the sort of talk that has undoubtedly contributed to the candidate’s 82 percent unfavorability among Hispanic voters, as of a July poll.
Several experts on Latino political participation suggested that the Pew survey’s findings may not capture the intentions of this year’s Latino electorate, pointing to an earlier series of polls, taken over four straight weeks this September and October, that turned up an average of 74.5 percent of registered Hispanic voters saying they were “almost certain” that they would select a candidate this year.
“My hunch is you’re going to see a Latino vote for Clinton that’s going to equal or possibly be higher than the 2012 vote for Obama,” says Albert Camarillo, a Stanford history professor known as a founder of Mexican-American and Chicano studies, in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor. In 2012, 71 percent of Hispanic voters went for Obama, according to another Pew poll.
“I would not be surprised if you see a 73 or 74 percent clip [in 2016 for Clinton], particularly now that she’s blanketing Latino markets with Spanish-language ads,” he says.
Still, Hispanic voters’ collective reaction to the ascent of Donald Trump’s hardline nativism – and perhaps its prominence as a source of momentum for his campaign – seems to highlight the GOP’s troubles with appealing to Hispanics over a longer period.
In July, Story Hinckley of the Monitor reported that Hispanics expressed the least fear about this year’s election of any ethnic group in a Gallup survey:
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.”
Since the late 1990s, the percentage of Latinos who identify as or lean Republican has hovered around a quarter of respondents, ranging no higher than 28 percent. For the Democrats, that percentage declined during the Bush administration years (2001-2009), but rose during the Obama administration.
That doesn’t mean Democrats can assume Latino support in the future: like young voters across ethnic lines, Millennial Hispanics are less enthusiastic about Mrs. Clinton and the Democrats than older generations. Only 48 percent say they’ll plan to vote for Clinton, and of them, 64 percent describe it in negative terms, as a vote against Mr. Trump.
“What’ll be a fascinating conversation in four years with the Democratic Party,” says Dr. Camarillo, “is if you get a really strong Latino candidate that brings out the ethnic vote. We haven’t seen that yet. Had Clinton taken one of the possible Latino running mates, I think we’d be having a different conversation.”