By Sergio Garcia-Rios, Assistant Professor of Government and Latino Studies at Cornell University
After victories in the primaries of New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, the nomination of Donald Trump as a Republican presidential candidate begins to look more and more like a real fact.
Without doubt, there is still a long way to go, but if historical precedents serve as indicators, we must remember that every Republican candidate that have won in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada have gone on to win the nomination to the general race for the presidency.
It is also true that Trump continues to lead the polls with margins of 20 percentage points or more. If Trump’s nomination is imminent, the Latino involvement will be, more than ever, a key point in the general election.
Since its inception, Trump has used an anti-immigrant rhetoric — particularly anti-Mexican — as the spearhead of his campaign. In his first rally keynote address, Trump clearly set the tone that his campaign would have to Latinos and migrants using words like “rapists” and “criminals” to refer to Mexican migrants. He further noted that he would build a fence along the southern border and that the Mexican government would pay this wall.
But Trump's uncompromising rhetoric is not limited to nativist pleas. He has also indicated that he will revoke citizenship rights to the children of migrants born in the US, which would imply a repeal of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, and that he does not plan to separate families but to deport entire families.
Finally, after being questioned by Jorge Ramos at a press conference on its discriminatory positions Trump reacted by saying “go back to Univision” and ordered his security agents to kick out Ramos conditioning his return.
It is outrageous to think that Trump’s discriminatory proposals have not only resonated with many Republican voters but that it is precisely this type of rhetoric what keeps him as the leader of the surveys and soundly winning delegates.
Exit polls in Nevada estimate that Trump won about 45% of the Latino vote. However, primary elections do not necessarily reflect what would happen in a general election. It should be made clear that the total of Latinos participating in the Republican caucus is much lower than the Democrat, it is estimated that between 5,000-6,000 Latinos were involved in this caucus compared to more than 16,000 Latinos who participated in the Democratic caucus.
In addition, the sample of Latinos in these surveys is less than 150, which leaves a margin of error of +/- 10%. Even if Trump won 46% of the Latino vote in this caucus, those votes would only represent 12% of the overall Latino vote in Nevada.
The decision to embark on an anti-immigrant and anti-Latino campaign can bring real consequences in terms of votes in a general election for three important reasons. First, it is well known that the weight of the Latino vote continues to grow; Latino Decisions estimates that to win the presidency the Republican candidate will have to obtain between 40-47% of the overall Latino vote. To give some context, Mitt Romney got only 23% of the Latino vote in 2012 and Trump's political strategy does not leave him well positioned to exceed the percentage of the Latino vote Romney received.
In fact, a recent Latino Decisions’ survey showed that Trump’s hostile proposals cause a negative impact to the Republican Party in general—68% of respondents reported having a negative impression of the party after learning of his propositions.
Second, in addition to causing detachment of the Republican Party, a negative campaign to Latinos can also cause greater mobilization among Latinos.
In my academic research using surveys from 1960 to 2006 I have found that when Latinos face discrimination, such as Trump's comments, a Latino identity is reinforced resulting in increasing political action. In a recent study we found a direct connection between Mitt Romney's comments on the proposal for self-deportation and high levels of Latino votes in favor of Barack Obama in 2012 (*).
Thus Trump's actions cannot only alienate GOP Latino voters but also can motivate those who under other circumstances would not participate.
Finally, the contentious relationship between Trump and Hispanic media is also consequential. Expelling Jorge Ramos from the press conference carries a much more important symbolic weight than Trump can imagine.
For many Latinos, Hispanic media represents both a reliable source of information and a vehicle of socialization. Ramos leads this effort, questioning politicians on the most important issues for the Latino community for which Jorge Ramos has become a true spokesman.
He also participates in a wide public service campaign called “It's Time” motivating Latinos to register and vote to make their voices heard. According to the results of another one of our research studies, those who watch Hispanic news show greater interest in politics, even those who prefer English as their day-to-day language.
We have called such dynamic “the Jorge Ramos effect.” This effect occurs not only in increasing public interest to vote, but also in encouraging greater involvement in political campaigns (**).
If Donald Trump ends up being the presidential candidate, Latinos will play a very important role. Certainly Trump's stance may change once he sees the need to woo more Hispanic votes, but this is unlikely to happen.
Still, “the Jorge Ramos effect” and the power of the Latino vote will emerge and will show that US politics have changed and today our voice must be heard.
(*) “Revisiting Latino voting: cross-racial mobilization in the 2012 election.” Political Research Quarterly (2014)
(**) Politicized Immigrant Identity, Spanish-Language Media, and Political Mobilization in 2012, In The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences: Immigrants Inside Politics/Outside Citizenship. (2016)
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