By Fulton Armstrong and Eric Hershberg
The U.S. general election on November 8 could give Latino voters their biggest chance yet to flex their political muscles. The Pew Research Center has released new projections showing that a record 27.3 million Latino voters – 4 million more than in 2012 and 12 percent of the U.S. total – are eligible to vote this year. Millennials (born since 1981) now make up 44 percent of Latino eligible voters, and Pew Research says that first-time voters represent one-fifth of those who say they are “absolutely certain” to vote. (Only 9 percent of those over 36 are “absolutely certain.”) Pew is agnostic, however, on whether their turnout in November will set a record. Latino non-participation rates are generally high: their turnout rate was only 48 percent in 2012. Indeed, analysts at the New York Times cautioned last month that comparisons between Clinton’s support among Latinos now and Obama’s in 2012 – which are similar – indicate that she can’t take them for granted.
Latinos’ political preferences – traditionally Democratic except in the Cuban-American community, which itself is trending towards the Democrats – appear poised for an unprecedented surge in favor of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton next month. The “Vote Predict” model of Latino Decisions shows Clinton stands to win 82 percent of the Latino vote, and her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump, 15 percent, with a 5.5 percent margin of error. This 67-point gap breaks the previous record of a 51 percent split between President Bill Clinton and Senator Bob Dole in 1991, and the 71-to-27 difference between President Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012. Press reports indicate that, despite unhappiness with aspects of the Obama Administration’s immigration policies which Clinton supported as Secretary of State, Latinos judge that Donald Trump’s policies of walls and expulsions call for active opposition. Pew’s polls confirm that two-thirds of Millennial Latinos say their support for Clinton is more a vote against Donald Trump than for her. The Republican Party’s own “autopsy” of its resounding 2012 electoral defeat underscored the importance of attracting Latino voters, who were dismayed by anti-immigrant and xenophobic stances they associated with the GOP. In nominating Trump, the party fulfilled its strategists’ worst fears.
An overwhelming Latino majority for Clinton seems almost certain. Political scientists increasingly predict that their rejection of the Republican brand may endure for generations to come, with profound implications for the viability of the Republican Party beyond the Congressional district and state levels. Latinos may not get credit as the crucial swing vote in the presidential race, but they could be crucial in other contests. The Latino vote could prove critical to the outcome of key Senate races in states such as Florida, North Carolina, and Arizona. While the absolute number of Latino voters appears likely to rise, turnout in this unusual – even unsightly – presidential contest is one of the most unpredictable variables confounding polling experts, who see signs that many Americans’ faith in democracy and its processes is dropping, at least temporarily. A survey reported in the Washington Post, for example, showed that fully 40 percent of 3,000 registered voters say they “have lost faith in American democracy,” while just 52 percent say they have not. An astounding 28 percent said they probably would not accept the legitimacy of the outcome if their candidate loses. These trends, along with Trump’s allegations that the election may be rigged, make the timing of the coming-of-age of Latino Millennials truly ironic in this extraordinary election year. Many Latinos, or their parents or grandparents, left polarized, imperfect democracies and, after earning U.S. citizenship and the right to vote, find themselves in a polarized, imperfect democracy with deep historical roots but an uncertain near-term future.
October 20, 2016