In the two weeks before the election, the dueling narratives about the Latino vote are boiling down to this: The “Trump Effect” will propel more Hispanics than ever before to the polls, or “Don’t believe the hype.”
There’s so much uncertainty about what will happen on Nov. 8 that partisans are basically stuck grasping at anything that might predict victory for their favored candidate. Yet the data continue to say different things.
The Pew Hispanic Center recently published numbers that threw a wet blanket on those hoping Donald Trump’s insults of minorities would spur trips to the polls. Its late-summer survey of 1,507 Latino adults, including 804 registered voters, painted the so-called “Sleeping Giant” as still snuggled in its pajamas, snoring away.
Pew found that the share of Latino registered voters who said they are “absolutely certain” they will vote this November (69 percent) is down from the share who said the same in 2012 (77 percent).
Predictably, young people, who have a reputation for not getting out to polls, reflected some of the sharpest declines.
Also upending the narrative that Trump’s bad-mouthing of Hispanics will move the needle for Hillary Clinton, Latino registered voters reported being less likely than all registered voters to say they have thought “quite a lot” about this year’s presidential election. Only 67 percent of Latino registered voters expressed this level of interest compared with 80 percent among all registered voters, though it is, notably, higher than the level of interest among Hispanic registered voters in the last presidential election (61 percent).
It’s interesting to note, however, that the Hispanic registered voters who responded to this survey are not only dissatisfied with the nation’s direction (a rise to 57 percent in 2016 from 50 percent in 2012) but also disillusioned with the political process itself.
Pew estimates that about 15 percent of eligible Hispanic voters say they will not vote this year. Thirty-three percent of this group cited dislike of the candidates as their reason for not voting and another 22 percent said they’re not interested in the election or feel that their vote will not make a difference.
Former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer basically said the same when she scoffed at reports that Clinton was leading in her state with the help of Latino voters. “Nah. … They don’t get out and vote. They don’t vote,” she told The Boston Globe.
Soon after, however, early voting estimates were released for Florida and California. BuzzFeed reported that 133,000 Hispanics had already cast votes in Florida, a 99 percent increase compared with the same time period in 2012. Headlines — such as this one from Daily Kos: “Thanks, Donald, for finally waking up the Latino vote!” — are providing momentum to those who dearly want this to be true.
The Center for Community Change Action was quick to underscore the fruits of hard-fought get-out-the-vote efforts. Kica Matos, its director of immigrant rights and social justice, sent out a statement declaring, “The early voting numbers appear to be a resounding testament to our ground-breaking, multimillion-dollar Immigrant Voters Win PAC Campaign to turn out low propensity Latino and other pro-immigrant voters.”
Let’s hope Latinos finally do put speculation about their power at the ballot box to rest. But either way, there is peril.
Should Latino votes help the Democrats win, the shabby, last-minute outreach efforts that many advocacy organizations complained only started at the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month might seem to have been adequate. Worst case scenario: Rewarding Democrats with a win could possibly lead to even less investment in mobilizing Latino voters during the next go-around.
The alternative is more troubling: If they stay home and Trump wins, Latinos will be blamed for helping their tormentor take the White House and Republicans might assume that no amount of insults will entice their participation at the polls.
No one wants to banish the sleeping-giant stereotype more than politically engaged Latinos — and let’s hope that happens. But it is worth pointing out that it’s not fair that Hispanic voters, who have been neglected by both major parties, might stand to lose no matter who wins.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.