By David S. Bernstein (Politico)
When President Donald Trump tweeted, on January 20, that he had reached 50 percent approval among Hispanic-Americans, most fair-minded observers reacted with skepticism, if not outright disbelief. Trump was, after all, still the same man who announced his candidacy by accusing Mexico of sending “rapists” across the border, the same man who ordered refugee children separated from their parents, the same man who has made building a wall to shut out migrants the focal point of his presidency. Yet here he was, crowing characteristic bravado: “Wow, just heard that my poll numbers with Hispanics has gone up 19%, to 50%. That is because they know the Border issue better than anyone, and they want Security, which can only be gotten with a Wall.”
So, when even the pollsters responsible for the data Trump was touting—Marist Institute for Public Opinion, for NPR and “PBS NewsHour”—cautioned of the high margin of error for that subset, and a possible over-sampling of Republicans, many on the left promptly dismissed it as an anomaly.
One month later, however, and Trump is making an aggressive play for Hispanic-American votes in Florida and beyond. Meanwhile, polls suggest Marist might have been onto something—and that Democrats should be worried that Hispanic voters could help reelect Trump and keep the Senate in Republican control. If so, it would be a cosmic twist of fate: A party that has staked its future on a belief that America’s demographic picture is changing decidedly in its favor could find itself losing to a man whose politics of fear should be driving precisely those voters into the Democrats’ waiting arms.
In theory, the rosy predictions that once gave rise to chest-beating liberal books like “The Emerging Democratic Majority” are proving true: 2020 will be the first U.S. election in which Hispanics make up the largest racial or ethnic minority in the electorate, according to the Pew Research Center. Pew estimates that 32 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote—a full 2 million more than eligible black voters and more than 13 percent of the electorate. Hispanics figure to constitute at least 11 percent of the national vote, as they did in 2016 and 2018.
Many expected Hispanics to vote overwhelmingly against Trump in 2016. A Latino Decisions poll conducted just before the 2016 presidential election found Trump had the support of just 18 percent of Hispanics. But the actual figure was 28 percent, which—given Trump’s incendiary rhetoric about immigrants—some analysts and pundits refused to believe from exit polls until further studies confirmed it. That was just as good as Mitt Romney, as the 2012 Republican nominee, did with Hispanics—and it was enough to help Trump squeak an Electoral College victory.