Latino support for Trump on the rise? Not so fast

Latino support for Trump on the rise? Not so fast
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With an odd echo of Sally Field's "You like me!" speech at the Oscars, Donald Trump on Tuesday touted findings from a poll that he viewed as showing a surge of approval from Latinos. “Marist/NPR/PBS Poll shows President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border MORE’s approval rating among Latinos going to 50%, an increase in one year of 19%. Thank you, working hard!” he Tweeted. The president also bragged on Sunday about his support from Hispanics, tweeting,“That is because they know the Border issue better than anyone, and they want Security, which can only be gotten with a Wall.”

What’s wrong with this picture? Just about everything.

If you find it suspect that Hispanics would be warming to the most anti-Latino and anti-immigrant president in history — during the government shutdown over the wall, no less — you’re right. Trump’s reaction to this polling, as well as the poll itself, does not really reflect an accurate snapshot of Latino political views.

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In his Sunday tweet, the president asserted that Hispanics “know the Border issue better than anyone.” This is a presumption without evidence, and may come as a surprise to the millions of assimilated, U.S.-born Latinos who do not live anywhere near our southern border. Although Latinos certainly care about immigration, immigration issues are not necessarily the same as border issues. The questions surrounding DACA and the Dreamers, for example, have little to do with the border.

With respect to the Marist poll cited by Trump, its findings about Hispanics are worthy of some skepticism. The poll was conducted in English, which suggests it may have excluded the 36 percent of U.S. Latinos who identify as Spanish-language dominant. It was conducted only in the contiguous U.S., meaning Puerto Rico was left out. Although Hispanics constitute 18 percent of the U.S. population, the poll used a data set that was 15 percent Hispanic.

Breaking the numbers down, the poll of 1,023 people included about 154 Latinos. Think about it: 154 people were used to draw conclusions about a demographic that the Census Bureau reports numbers 58.9 million. As the website Latino Rebels commented, “We’ve done Twitter polls with more respondents.”

There is nothing wrong with including a proportional representation of Latinos in a national poll. The problems arise when a small sampling of Latinos is used to extrapolate findings about the broader Hispanic population. In statistical terms, allowing 154 individuals to stand in for 58.9 million people results in a margin of error of eight percent — a figure outside what many pollsters would consider reliable.

For what it’s worth, the same poll showed that 58 percent of Hispanics did not plan to vote for Trump, compared to 27 percent who did. Funny how the president left this finding out of his tweets.

Controversies around Latino opinion surveys are nothing new, most notably in the 2016 presidential election when Hispanic support for Trump was hotly disputed by experts. Nate Cohn pointed out that pollsters tend to sample a disproportionately Republican group of Hispanic voters, leading to results that skew right. And it is not easy to compile accurate data about Hispanics. The Latino community is diverse and surveying it requires sophisticated methodology. That’s why there are companies and organizations like Latino Decisions and the Pew Research Center devoted to this complex task. A 2018 Pew survey on the Latino community, for instance, was bilingual and used 1,501 Hispanic adults.

True, there are Latinos who support Trump, for the same reasons that other Americans do: because they are steadfast Republicans, because they admire his business background, or because they like his policies. But they are a minority among the Latino community. The best evidence we have of this can be seen in the 2018 midterm results. An estimated 69 percent of Latinos voted for the Democratic candidate, Pew reports, compared with just 29 percent who backed a Republican candidate.

Just like a majority of other Americans, a solid majority of Latinos pushed back against Trump and his policies.

In our current political climate, it’s doubtful that Trump’s approval among Latinos is soaring. While the president can still count on support from his base, it doesn’t include most Latinos — and that is not fake news.

Raul A. Reyes is an immigration attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.  A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, he is also a contributor to NBCNews.com and CNN Opinion. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaulAReyes, Instagram: raulareyes1.