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Trump might capture Latino support, wall and all, on Super Tuesday

ASU political expert offers a look ahead at the Latino vote

Picture of a voting sign.
February 24, 2016

On first glance, the odds would seem long that Donald Trump would gain a lot of support from voters of Latino heritage.

He kicked off his campaign making what many considered to be unkind remarks about immigrants, and one of his most indelible contributions to the political season has been his often-repeated promise to not only build a wall — "The Wall," he calls it — on the border with Mexico, but to get the Mexican government to pay for it.

But few things in this campaign have been what they seem at first glance.

The billionaire New York City developer confidently proclaimed on a late-night talk show last year that he "was going to win the Latino vote." Turned out he was right, at least in Nevada this week. Though there were a relatively small number of Latino voters who answered questions before caucusing in the Silver State, they broke disproportionately for Trump.

With three primary wins, Trump is in the lead heading for next week's nominating contests in 13 states on what is known as Super Tuesday.

Picture of Richard Herrera

Richard Herrera (pictured at left), associate director of Arizona State University’s School of Politics and Global StudiesThe School of Politics and Global Studies is a unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences., talks about the growing trend for Trump among Latino voters and how the Latino vote could impact next Tuesday’s primary races. 

Question: More delegates are up for grabs on Super Tuesday than on any other single day of the primary calendar. If Donald Trump wins big, he'll have an overwhelming lead in the race for the GOP nomination. And Latino voters, perhaps surprisingly, seem to be on his side. What is it about Trump that Latino voters find appealing?   

Answer: Republican Latinos find Trump appealing for the same reason that other Republicans seem to: He’s a voice for those who are angry with politics as usual, and he offers himself as an outsider option. Keep in mind that only 8 percent of the Nevada Republicans who participated in the poll identified as Latino. That means that the potential Latino Republican vote is either not being activated by Republicans or will not exist in the general election.

Q: Both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are of Cuban heritage, but both failed to gain any real traction with Latino voters in Nevada. Why is this, and how do you anticipate they will do among Latino voters within the 12 states primaries this Super Tuesday?   

A: It is not a given that Latinos will vote for a Latino candidate. Their policy proposals have not resonated with Latinos who might identify as Republicans. Of Latinos who do identify as Republicans, most are of Cuban descent. Even there, it is not clear that most support the Republican Party or Rubio, who is from Florida. There is a generational shift occurring among Cuban-Americans with younger voters beginning to replace older ones in numbers that shift the overall picture of their support. Younger Latinos, generally, tend to support Democrats, and that applies to Cuban-Americans as well.

Q: While polls show that black voters are squarely in Hillary Clinton's corner, Latino voters unexpectedly broke for Bernie Sanders over Clinton in Nevada’s caucus. Few anticipated that Sanders would’ve come out stronger with Hispanic voters. So what’s going on here?

A: Keep in mind that those entrance poll results may be in question. If those results are correct, though, they suggest that among younger Latinos, Sanders may be preferred, as he is for most younger voters. My sense is that Clinton’s support among Latinos is much stronger than those polls suggest.

Q: Why have so few political professionals been able to anticipate Donald Trump’s overwhelming success? What does he know that they don’t? 

A: It’s always difficult to anticipate the success or failure of candidates who are so different from the usual candidates. A large field of candidates (at least 15 at the start) made it difficult for establishment and professionals to coalesce around a particular candidate (like Romney in 2012 or Bush in 2000). Also, a GOP electorate seemingly less interested in policy details than in expressions of frustration and what appears to be an incumbent, or insider, backlash, has made him difficult to predict.  

Q: The GOP primaries are generally winner-take-all, giving Trump a huge lead. On the Democratic side, there is a proportional allocation of delegates. Is it possible that Trump could lock up the GOP nomination before a winner is declared on the Democratic side? What does that mean for the general election? 

A: It is possible that Trump could make it very difficult for others to catch. On Super Tuesday, though, the GOP primaries or caucuses are either proportional or hybrid, usually meaning that the winner would need 50 percent, sometimes higher percentage of the vote to make it winner take all. It’s unlikely that Trump will reach those thresholds so most delegates will be allocated in a proportional manner once the 10-20 percent threshold is reached. Still, he can make it very difficult to catch. Republicans may be hoping for a brokered convention at which a strong contender can break through after a first ballot. That’s a long shot and no guarantee Trump delegates will defect. There’s little doubt that the establishment would not be able to handle a Trump as nominee. He goes his own way. They would have little choice since they are not likely to break ranks.

Democrats use proportional allocation systems, but the same is true here. If Clinton is able to get the lion’s share of the states, she can pull away from Sanders and make it mathematically impossible to catch, especially if superdelegatesOn the Democratic side, superdelegates are elected officials and party insiders who are given a vote at the nominating convention, which this year will be held in Philadelphia. Since superdelegates are generally considered to be loyalists to the party, they are considered likely to break for Secretary Clinton. follow her as expected. A margin of 100 delegates separating Clinton and Sanders is enough to make it very difficult for Sanders to catch her. It could drag out in practice, but the decision will be pro forma.

Top photo by Tom Arthur via Wikimedia Commons

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