Presidential Campaign

Is Trump proving that the Latino voting bloc is a myth?

Of the many constants political forecasters accept heading into 2016, it’s that all voting blocs are monolithic and all potential Latino voters next year pretty much despise Donald Trump. The ranting billionaire flame-thrower makes little effort to reverse that notion: for example, he has singlehandedly demolished any chance of comprehensive immigration reform passing any time soon. We’ve now reached the point where folks are openly mulling barcodes on human beings.

But there are quite a few numbers that keep pushing back against conventional wisdom on Trump’s standing with Latinos, the Republican Party’s relationship with the so-called “brown vote” and whether the only policy issue Latinos ever really worry about is immigration.

{mosads}The problem here is that he seems unfazed by any of this. It’s as if he’s completely oblivious to the presence of Latino voters in 2016 or he believes they won’t be as pivotal as every other observer assumes. One theory concludes that’s just what Trump does: He comfortably embraces his straight-no-chaser bully ethos with style.

Another theory suspects he’s convinced of an unorthodox analysis on the Latino factor that — to him — validates the xenophobia even more. Of course, the majority of Latinos aren’t feeling Trump, a July Univision poll making that abundantly clear with 79 percent finding his campaign comments offensive and 71 percent holding an unfavorable opinion of him.

Yet, digging deeper into those Univision numbers and others give some pause on mainstream society’s assumption that Hispanics are a one-dimensional racial bloc when, in reality, they have always been a diverse language group of nationalities, varying racial makeups and shades. We keep forgetting that during any given presidential cycle, an average 30 percent of Latinos still vote Republican, something Democrats shouldn’t sneeze at. As outrageous as his views are on the campaign trail, recent Trump moves suggest a rather clever political calculus in the works that can’t be casually dismissed. If he’s that much of a pariah with Latinos, then casual observers might expect that he didn’t need to meet with Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Javier Palomarez recently. Yet, he did just that, prompting Palomarez to offer this benefit-of-the-doubt statement on CNN: “I”s kind of interesting, the dichotomy between the private Donald Trump and the public Donald Trump. He listened a lot more than he spoke. He never once interrupted me.”

That’s an important distinction worth because the non-Hispanic electorate habitually stereotypes Latinos as one Spanish-speaking “race” of brown migrants crisscrossing the Southeastern border. In a weird, stomach-churning way, Trump may have (inadvertently or deliberately) called us out on it. But, in reality, it’s much more complex.

There are West Coast Hispanics and East Coast Hispanics; Hispanics from Central America and Hispanics from South America and the Caribbean. Getting more granular, you’ve got massive populations of black people who identify as black, hail from places such as Panama, Columbia or Belize but just so happen to speak Spanish — just as you’ve got many white Hispanics from places such as Spain, Argentina or Venezuela who speak the same language and may straight up identify as white. Many Latinos from the Caribbean, even, view themselves as part of a global African-influenced “black diaspora” in which a number of Latin American countries hold large black populations.

Still, as Pew Research pointed out in a June Fact Tank brief (thankfully someone did), Hispanic as a “race” or a “language” or both remains inconclusive. “Federal policy defines ‘Hispanic’ not as a race, but as an ethnicity,” wrote Pew researchers Ana Gonzalez-Barrera and Mark Hugo. “And it prescribes that Hispanics can in fact be of any race. But these [C]ensus findings suggest that standard U.S. racial categories might either be confusing or not provide relevant options for Hispanics to describe their racial identity.”

Which can also mean that just because Hispanics are perceived as a racial “minority” at the moment doesn’t mean they’re impervious to racist behavior or attitudes, as Aura Bogado notes in a Salon piece.

Not so surprising, then, that Trump may have captured — for any number of generational, racial and ideological reasons — what we could call the “Alonzo bloc.” It’s a twist on the fictional character in ABC’s racially charged drama “American Crime,” in which actor Benito Martinez plays a hardworking, old-school Hispanic father who blames his family’s mounting misfortunes on the “illegals.”

When most would expect near-unanimous Hispanic disgust with Trump, the latest YouGov poll shows him with 26 percent favorability among Latinos — a more than 10 percentage point increase since YouGov polled respondents several days after his entry into the race. It’s not in the 30 percent or more range, like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) or former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.), but it’s still an impressive quarter of an electorate that should be universally hating him.

Yet, his favorable ratings among Latinos in some polls are actually higher than those found among African-Americans (a population segment he doesn’t say that much about these days). A July 22 national Public Policy Polling survey showed Trump snatching the highest Latino favorability rating of all Republican presidential candidates (even Rubio) at 34 percent.

A later Aug. 5 Gravis Marketing poll also showed him leading among Republican primary contenders with 37.8 percent of the Hispanic vote. Even with a much more cautious Aug. 27 Quinnipiac poll, Trump received a 22 percent Latino favorability rating, and actually gained a few percentage points more when matched up in a hypothetical general election against Vice President Biden.

And not only did 27 percent of Latinos surveyed, according to Quinnipiac, find him “trustworthy,” but 48 percent were convinced he displays “strong leadership qualities.”


Despite all the fears from Republican strategists of mass Latino voting pushback, and the glee of Democrats watching from the sidelines, Trump keeps spraying a steady stream of fairly bigoted anti-immigrant tirades as if he won’t face any political consequences for it. In terms of a very white GOP primary electorate, it obviously doesn’t appear as if he will. But his Latino support numbers also deserve closer, less culturally myopic scrutiny. Something rather fascinating is going on there, and it’s making him feel politically safe at the moment. Apparently, Trump keeps seeing things we’re not.

Ellison is a veteran political strategist and contributor for The Hill. He is a contributing editor for The Root and Washington correspondent for The Philadelphia Tribune. He can be reached via Twitter @ellisonreport.

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