Tuesday night was a major turning point in the U.S. presidential primary election for both political parties, and we now have a clearer sense of each party’s presumptive nominee. As we turn our attention to a general election that will likely pit Republican candidate Donald Trump against Democrat Hillary Clinton, pundits of all stripes will be scrutinizing which American voting blocs are critical to the ultimate election outcome. But, in all likelihood, it will be Latino voters that ensure Hillary Clinton will be sworn in as our 45th President — just as they did for President Obama in 2012.
After last night — the second Super Tuesday of the 2016 primary fight — Trump has solidified his lead among his Republican competitors, performing well enough in the perennial swing state of Florida to knock out rival Senator Marco Rubio. While Clinton and Bernie Sanders fought narrow contests in a few states in the Midwest, Clinton's overall delegate grew substantially, largely on account of her decisive win in Florida.
These results in Florida provide insights into the priorities of Latino voters, and have implications for the general election. The exit polls reveal some suggestive results that corroborate findings from other public opinion and voting data. First, Clinton won just over 70% of the Latino vote, a number very similar to her victory in Texas. Clinton appears to have a strong comparative advantage among Latino voters for the general election. Meanwhile, Trump significantly underperformed among Latino Republicans, losing nearly two to one to Rubio (who dropped out of the race tonight). This comes on the heels of Trump winning among Nevada Latinos, but others have pointed out that the number of Latinos voting in the Republican primary was so small that Trump only won 7% of all Latinos who caucused. While some Florida’s preference for Rubio is due to a “native-son” effect (where voters disproportionately support hometown candidates), it seems most likely that Trump is poised to lose big among Latinos come November.
What conclusions can we draw from last night’s primary competition in Florida about how the Latino electorate could affect the likely outcome in November’s general election? Available public opinion data paint a very stark picture for Trump and the Republican Party. First, a Washington Post poll from last November showed that the vast majority of Latinos overwhelmingly dislike Trump (80 percent find him unfavorable). None of the other Republican candidates came close to inciting such enmity among Latinos. These numbers are unlikely to change after Trump receives the Republican nomination, because almost everyone has heard of Trump – their opinions are likely well-formed, based on Trump's derisive statements about Mexican immigrants (and non-whites more generally).
Around that same time, political research firm Latino Decisions (in partnership with impreMedia) released a poll of Latino voters in battleground states, including Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin and North Carolina, revealed similar trends. Trump net favorability (percent who say they have a favorable attitude towards Trump minus those who say they have a negative attitude towards Trump) was negative 56%. Again, no other candidate came close to receiving such unfavorable marks. On the other hand, Clinton received the highest rating (35% net favorable) among any presidential hopeful, Democrat or Republican; a total of 62% of Latinos maintain a favorable opinion about her.
To make matters worse for the Republicans, naturalization applications have increased since Trump announced his intention to run for president. It seems quite plausible that we are now seeing a naturalization push among Latinos eligible for American citizenship to become citizens before November. Many of these new voters are likely motivated to become enfranchised citizens precisely because they want to ensure Trump's defeat, not necessarily because they feel enthusiastic about Clinton or the Democrats.
This naturalization movement is not without historical precedent. California governor Pete Wilson pushed a similarly hostile anti-immigrant/anti-Latino agenda in the 1990s because it was politically advantageous among certain blocs of voters at the time. However, it initiated a Latino backlash, as large swaths of foreign-born, newly naturalized Latinos voted in 1996 and later elections. California has since become an overwhelmingly Democratic state, in large part because of the growth of the Latino electorate.
The implications are straightforward: Republicans are in a very tenuous position to win the presidency in 2016. The Latino electorate continues to grow – and remains a critical voting block in the key swing states of Florida, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico. In addition, this bloc is large enough to also swing very close elections in states such as Virginia and Ohio. Over the past two presidential elections, Democrats have increased their lead among Latinos from over 30% to over 40%. In all likelihood – given the current tenor of the campaign and the factors reviewed above – Clinton will garner even larger shares of the Latino electorate.
The counter to these research-based predictions is that Trump is also energizing new voters. And due to his propensity for anti-immigrant rhetoric, a greater share of native-born whites will vote — and vote Republican —than may have if immigration was not so central to the leading candidate's campaign. In other words, other experts have argued, a backlash to immigration among whites has ensued and they will delegate their votes accordingly.
However, this Republican optimism does not square with voting statistics from the past two presidential elections. First, in 2012, Obama garnered only 39% of the white vote (according to exit polls) and still won. It is hard to imagine a white woman doing worse than a black man among white voters. Second, minority voter turnout has increased in each of the last four presidential elections. At the same time, white turnout, as a percentage of the overall electorate, has actually declined.
Republicans simply lack the white support needed to counter the increasingly diverse American electorate. Take, for example, the highly unlikely best-case scenario for Donald Trump come November: even if whites make up a total vote share of 71% and 62% of them back Trump, 20% of the 10.6% of voters who are Latino vote for Trump, and 12% of the 11.8% of American voters who are black support Trump, he still will likely lose the election.
Given previous voter turnout figures, these breakdowns are highly unlikely to happen. Thus, even in a 'best-case scenario,' the chances of a GOP presidential victory are slim. In reality, we are far more likely to see a more diverse electorate that is hostile to Trump. In the end, barring some unforeseen event, this year’s presidential race should lead to a fairly straightforward victory for Clinton. America’s changing demographic landscape simply does not bode well for Donald Trump or his Republican party.
Loren Collingwood is an assistant professor of political science at the University of California in Riverside.