Presidential Campaign

Election autopsy: Latinos favored Clinton more than exit polls showed

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Among the many surprises in the 2016 presidential election was the claim by the national exit poll that Donald Trump captured a larger share of the Hispanic vote than Mitt Romney did four years earlier.

Indeed, this finding seemed at odds with the chorus of pre-election surveys showing Hispanic voters rejecting the Trump campaign in record numbers. 

{mosads}As social science researchers, we decided to take a look at the official election data to assess whether the Trump upset was due, in part, to larger-than-expected support among Latinos; or if the Latino vote favored Hillary Clinton by record margins as many pre-election surveys suggested would happen.


As Trump assumes the office of the president, it is important to understand the voting coalitions that elected him and those that opposed him.

The 2016 election raised significant questions about the stability and future of the major parties’ electoral coalitions as, for example, higher income voters appeared to shift in the direction of the Democratic Party and rural voters shifted toward the GOP column. 

As one of the fastest-growing demographic subgroups in America, the major parties have, in recent elections, vied for Latinos’ electoral support. 

If the national exit polls are right in that Trump outperformed Romney among Hispanics, this would have meaningful consequences for the parties coalition strategies going forward. So, we subjected this conclusion to greater examination.     

To begin, a simple review of state-level vote returns suggests that Clinton did quite well among Hispanic voters, winning battleground states, such as Colorado and Nevada, where the Hispanic vote often proves crucial. 

In the states with large Hispanic electorates that Trump won, such as Texas and Arizona, the gap in 2016 narrowed more than 7 points compared to 2012.

Recent analyses by political scientists have shown that Trump had a very poor showing with Hispanic voters in Arizona and Texas, far lower than what the exit polls estimated.

In California, which has the largest Hispanic vote, Clinton improved on Obama’s 2012 number by over 2 million votes. 

Data analysis in Florida has found that Trump fared worse than Romney among Latino voters in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando.

But looking to states, or even counties, is far too large a unit of aggregation to discern voter patterns.

Turning to Colorado, we reviewed the official voting data for more than 2,500 voting precincts across 17 counties, representing almost 90 percent of the state population.

Looking at voting precincts is an ideal way to infer vote choice patterns by racial demographic groups, and it has been regularly used in social science research. 

Harvard Statistician and Political Scientist Gary King has developed a methodology called “ecological inference,” which takes vote choice and racial demographic information from all available precincts and provides reliable estimates of how different groups voted — all based on the official election data.

In 2012, when Colorado delivered a 5-point win for Democrat Barack Obama, many pundits noted that the Hispanic vote provided the critical edge with about 80 percent of the vote. 

In 2014, when Republican Senator Cory Gardner recorded a surprise win in Colorado, analysts pointed to lower rates of Hispanic voter turnout and a 10-point drop in the Democratic vote share for Senator Mark Udall to help explain the result. 

Thus, as Colorado again had a close election in 2016, much was written about the Hispanic vote.

Since Clinton carried the state by 5 points, roughly the same margin as Obama in 2012, it would seem at odds with the national narrative that Trump improved GOP support among Hispanics.

The official precinct data, as reported by each county registrar office, suggests that turnout was higher in the most heavily Hispanic precincts across Colorado, and Clinton carried over 80 percent of the vote.

Next, we reviewed the total number of votes cast across all 2,500 precincts in our dataset. In most of the majority-Hispanic precincts across the state, more votes were cast in 2016 than in 2012.

For example, in precinct 435 — Denver — which is two-thirds Hispanic, 811 votes were cast in 2016 — up 19 percent from the 681 votes in 2012. 

Likewise, majority-Hispanic precinct 124 in Adams County saw a 10 percent increase in votes cast in 2016.

Similar voter turnout increases were reported for majority-Hispanic precincts in Weld and Pueblo Counties, as we summarize for 30 majority-Hispanic precincts in the table below.


Next, we make use of all 2,500 precincts to estimate what share of Hispanics voted for Clinton and what share voted for Trump. 

According to the exit poll data for Colorado, Clinton won the Latino vote 67 percent to 30 percent. However, according to polling firm Latino Decisions, Clinton won 81 percent to 16 percent.

In recent elections, Hispanic voters in Colorado rejected anti-immigrant candidates, such as Republican Rep. Ken Buck in 2010 (when he ran for a Senate seat) and former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo in 2012. Thus, it would be a surprise if Trump saw an increase in Hispanic support.

Our analysis indicates that Clinton won 83 percent of the Hispanic vote in Colorado to 14 percent for Trump.  This trend is very clear in the scatter plot, which maps every precinct, what percent of the vote went for Clinton or Trump and what percent of all voters were Hispanic.

As precincts become more heavily Hispanic — moving from left to right in the chart — Clinton saw a steady increase in her vote share in Colorado, landing at our estimate of 83 percent.  

According to our model, there is less than 4 percent probability that the exit poll estimate of 67 percent support for Clinton is accurate. 

In contrast, the Latino Decisions estimate of 81 percent support for Clinton comes very close to our model estimate using the official precinct data.



While the exit poll received considerable attention on Election Night and in the days after, the surprise that Trump improved the GOP’s standing among Hispanic voters is not supported by the official election data in Colorado. 

Instead, our analysis confirms what many pre-election polls showed in Colorado — Hispanics were trending quite heavily in favor of Clinton. It also helps explain why Clinton won Colorado by 5 points in 2016. 


John Griffin is associate professor of political science at the University of Colorado where his research focuses on American politics, political equality and racial and ethnic politics.

Bryan Wilcox-Archuleta is a Ph.D. student in the UCLA Department of Political Science.

The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Barack Obama Cory Gardner Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Latino vote Mark Udall Politics of the United States United States presidential election

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