The liberal advocacy group Voto Latino announced plans Tuesday to register 1 million new Latino voters in time for the 2020 election. “The new initiative, called Somos Mas (We Are More), will focus on seven states: Texas, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Florida and California, including on 27 college campuses spread among them,” Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere writes. “They’ll also have a digital effort concentrated on North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia and Pennsylvania.”
Democrats hoping to shore up support among Hispanic voters for 2020 have to work harder than they did in the lead-up to the 2016 election. Analysts then widely predicted that opposition to Trump’s rhetoric and bigotry would lead to a spike in Hispanic turnout that would cement a victory for Hillary Clinton. That did not happen. Turnout among Hispanics actually dipped by about 0.4 percentage points in 2016, according to Census data released last year, the lowest showing for Hispanics at the polls since 2004.
Moreover, a substantial number of Hispanics who did show up didn’t vote for Clinton. There was some debate over the figures in the first few months after the election, but analysts have variously estimated that between 11 and 28 percent of Hispanic voters went for Trump.
The high end of the early exit poll numbers suggested, shockingly, that Trump had won slightly more Hispanics than Mitt Romney, who is thought to have won about 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012. In the weeks immediately after Trump’s victory, journalists went out into the field for answers. “Nearly every Trump-supporting Latino I interviewed,” NPR’s Asma Khalid wrote in December 2016, “told me some version of—well, clearly Trump wasn’t talking about all Hispanics.”
In truth, the level of support for Trump among Hispanics shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Since 2000, at least a quarter of the Hispanic vote in presidential elections as reported by exit polls—which are admittedly less accurate representations of the electorate than standard surveys—has gone to Republican candidates. Clearly, a sizeable proportion of Hispanics didn’t see Trump as a substantively different political figure than Republican contenders past or didn’t feel he would be a threat to their livelihoods.
A Pew Research poll done shortly after Trump’s inauguration is particularly clarifying. It found that nearly half of U.S. Hispanics believed that their situation was “about the same” compared with early 2016. (Pew noted that 32 percent of Hispanics believed their standing in the United States had fallen, significantly up from 21 percent in 2014.) Pew also found that 50 percent of Hispanics believed Trump would be an average, good, or great president—compared with 53 percent of the general population—and that a 52 percent majority did not worry “much” or “at all” about the potential deportation of friends, family members, or themselves.
All that said, significant majorities of Hispanic voters obviously do strongly oppose every facet of the Trump administration’s immigration rhetoric and policies, from the wall to the scrapping of DACA. At the same time, there’s evidence that many Hispanics are cynical about the Democratic Party’s efforts and counter-messaging. An April Quinnipiac poll found that 54 percent of Hispanics believe that Democrats don’t actually care about the fates of immigrants brought to America as children and are simply using the issue for “political gain.”
Holding the line on DACA in the winter and using the drama of a shutdown to demonstrate their commitment to Dreamers might have converted some skeptics. Now, with that opportunity long gone, Democrats are doing what they can to keep immigration front and center ahead of the midterms. Politico reported Tuesday that Nancy Pelosi and 15 other Democrats will visit the border next week, as congressional Republicans continue their bickering over the potential resuscitation of DACA talks. That’s all well and good, but Democrats are going to have to broaden their pitch if they want to draw more Hispanics to the polls. Pew’s poll last year found that immigration policy came behind education, the economy, terrorism, and health care as a priority for Hispanics. Beyond immigration policy, Hispanic voters looking to the Democratic Party for answers want what all voters want: bold and compelling solutions to bread and butter problems. They didn’t get that in 2016. Maybe they will in 2020.