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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appears to be facing an insurmountable wall among Latino voters in the key swing state of Florida: only 12.9% support among Hispanic voters, according to a new survey.
It is a "historical low for a Republican candidate," said Eduardo Gamarra, co-author of New Latino Voice, an online poll conducted by Florida International University and Adsmovil, which is surveying the Latino vote nationally over the course of 16 weeks. The last sample was taken between July 26 and 31, and for the first time includes specific results for Florida.
While Trump can afford to give up the Hispanic vote in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania where Hispanics make up less than 5% of eligible voters, he can't afford to run that risk in Florida where the Latino electorate has greater weight, making up 18% of voters.
His low level of support in Florida could cost Trump the state and its 29 electoral votes, highly sought after in the race for the 270 electoral votes the presidential candidates need to win. "If the voter turnout rate of Hispanics is high here, Trump runs the risk of not winning," said Gamarra.
Trump’s risky bet
Hispanics in Florida represent a lower percentage of eligible voters than in California or Texas. But unlike those states, Florida is a “swing state,” where recent history indicates either party could win in November - President Barack Obama won Florida in 2008 and 2012, but George W. Bush won in 2004 and 2000.
In other words, the state has no clear historical preference and every vote can tip the balance one way or the other.
Given this scenario, presidential candidates must walk a fine line in Florida to attract different types of voters. "The Hispanic bloc in Florida is crucial, as are other groups," said Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida in Tampa. "In 2012, Obama only beat [Mitt] Romney by 0.9%," typical of the usually tight race in Florida.
Trump's strategy seems to be headed in the opposite direction. Analysts say Trump appears to be counting on overwhemling support from white males to compensate for a poor showing in key demographics such as women, African Americans and Hispanics. It remains unclear if that strategy will work for Trump in Florida.
The New Latino Voice poll shows Trump doing only minimally better among Hispanics in Florida than the rest of the country - 12.8% - despite South Florida's large Cuban American community, a traditional bastion for the Republican party.
One factor that could help the Republican candidate: whites tend to turn out to vote in a more “disciplined" manner than other groups such as Hispanics, who are less reliable at the polls, according to Gamarra. And in Florida, despite growing diversity, most of the electorate remains white.
For now, the electoral landscape in Florida is uncertain. On the website Real Clear Politics, which calculates a daily average of poll results, Trump is tied with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Fear of losing Hispanic support
There are Hispanic Republicans in Florida who are concerned about the devastating effect that Trump could have on Latino support for the party. Commentator Jorge Bonilla, a former Republican candidate for the House of Representatives, is one of them.
"This isn't just my concern, it is shared by many people," said Bonilla, who says he doesn't support the Republican candidate. "We are concerned that Trump could destroy decades' worth of Hispanic engagement efforts," he added.
However, the decline of the Republican Hispanic vote in Florida is a phenomenon that precedes Trump.
In the past, the Republican Party used to win among Latinos in the state thanks to a conservative Cuban majority associated with a strong anti-Castro sentiment. Over the years, the old guard of Cuban exiles gave way to a new generation of youth more open to other political views. Cuban hegemony also broke down with the arrival en masse of other Hispanic groups who lean Democrat, like Puerto Ricans.
Demographic changes in the Hispanic electorate in 2008 helped President Barack Obama win 57% of the Latino vote in Florida. It was the first time since at least 1988 that a Democrat obtained a majority of the Hispanic vote in the state.
Obama's Republican rivals received an even harder blow on a national level. John McCain won 42% of the Hispanic vote in Florida, compared to 31% nationwide. Four years later, Mitt Romney got 39% of the Latino vote in Florida, compared to 27% nationally, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
This time, Trump may fare as badly with Hispanics in Florida as he does nationally, potentially spelling doom for his chances.
"The Hispanic Republican [base] shrinks during every election cycle in Florida," said Gamarra.
Trump could speed up that process.
(Due to a boycott of Univision by the Trump campaign it was not possible to obtain comment from the Republican nominee for this story)