Trump began his campaign with some by-now-rather-infamous comments about undocumented Mexican migrants and has not, in any way shape or form, backed away from one bit of them. Those comments struck many more as fundamentally bigoted and utterly false, sounding an ongoing alarm about the direction that a Trump campaign would take and what issues may animate Trump voters. If anything, the conventional political wisdom remains that Donald Trump and the campaign he has waged is more likely to spur Latino voters of various ethnic backgrounds to turn out and vote against the New York real estate developer, rather than for him.
But, in Nevada, the first of the early GOP voting states with a significant Latino population, Donald Trump did, in fact, win the Latino vote -- by a wide margin, according to Edison's official entrance poll as reported by CNN. He won their votes 45-27 over a Latino Republican who happened to spend his early childhood in Nevada, Marco Rubio.
So that's the plain and simple, and incontrovertible truth. Right? The media and all those people who do not love and adore Trump have just been plain wrong. Trump is unstoppable and Nevada's Latino voters adore him and all that he has to say. Right?
Well, sorry, but that's wrong. Very wrong. Let's dig in.
There is little denying that that 45 percent figure represents what is very likely an actual win, even if we consider the margin of error (more on that later). And it's also absolutely true that Nevada's electorate is far more diverse than those of New Hampshire or Iowa. So this is a first and interesting bit of hard data about Latino Republican voters in the 2016 election.
But, there are some major caveats and bits of context that every American needs to really understand that number, as well as what it does and does not mean.
More details on this follow below, but the summary is this: Nevada has a large Latino population, a substantial share of which is undocumented. Among those who are citizens and eligible to vote, the vast -- and we really do mean very, very vast -- majority of these Latino voters tend to cast ballots for Democrats. In fact, in 2008, President Obama won the Latino vote there 76 percent to 22 percent. He won it by nearly 50 points in 2012. And even that might undersell how much Nevada Latinos lean left.
So, like any election, only some share of this small share of the Latino electorate showed up and participated in the Wednesday Republican caucus to begin with. And, of those who did, Edison's resources and plans allowed them to check with with a grand total of 100 -- that is right, 100 -- Latino Republican voters inside of a very limited number of precincts around the state, before these individuals went in and cast a vote.
In other words, this survey has a really big margin of error -- about plus or minus 10 percentage points. That means that Trump may have earned as little as 34 percent (still a sizable number) of the Republican Latino vote in Nevada or as much as 54 percent. And, as any third-grader can tell you, that's quite a range.
As one Latino voting expert The Fix checked with Wednesday morning put it, "I would be exceedingly careful about reading too much into that 44 percent."
That will, to Trump supporters, no doubt sound like some fancy attempt to justify residual doubt of the Trump phenomenon. But we assure you and strongly encourage you to take a look at the information in the links here, here and here, explaining the importance of sample sizes, margins of error and the limits of entrance polls, as well as the pervasive but obviously increasingly serious need for public opinion researchers to include a more diverse array of voters in all sorts of polls. Some of these issues apply to all polls. But all of them apply to the entrance polling data on which that 44 percent figure is based. And, that is why there are no reputable public opinion researcher who will tell you that 44 percent figure is truly solid. It is, at the very best, an interesting indicator.
Now, for a little bit of the detail that may help to make all of the above clear. We have included links, wherever possible in case you would like to know more.
First, in Nevada, Latinos comprise about 28 percent of the state's total population -- a large figure which far outstrips the national average of about 17.4 percent. Nevada's total Latino population consists of about 795,000 people, according to the most recent Census estimate available, in 2014. That is the 14th largest in the nation. And it is a population that grew by a whopping 91 percent between 2000 and 2014. That, folks, is huge.
Latinos also make up about 24 percent of the state's total electorate. That's also very big. For some perspective, take a look at how that last figure compares to the national average.
And in 2012, the Pew Hispanic Center complied a little more detail about eligible Latino voters in Nevada. Take a look at this chart below before you move on. Click on the chart to enlarge it. The numbers below are in thousands (i.e. 2,759 means 2.8 million). Nearly 45 percent of the state's Latino population was eligible to vote that year. But this also means that a little more than half were either too young or not U.S. citizens and have no formal political voice.
On Tuesday, about 6,000 of these eligible voters cast ballots for a Republican presidential contender (according to entrance polls and turnout numbers) -- about 2 percent of all eligible Latino voters in Nevada. That is a very low number, both because there aren't many Latino Republicans and because turnout in Nevada's caucuses is very small.
These figures begin to explain why the vast majority of Nevada's Latino eligible voters tend to lean toward or regularly cast ballots for Democrats -- and why the total picture of all Nevada Latinos might lean even more Democratic. Mexican-Americans, the dominant Latino population subgroup in Nevada, are overwhelmingly Democrats in Nevada and elsewhere around the United States. So, right there we know for sure that Edison's poll of 100 Latino voters headed into Republican caucus sites statewide was a terribly small poll of a small share of the state's Latino eligible voters.
That said, there really are some reasons to believe that Trump's hard-line, some say openly anti-immigrant, rhetoric may do well among Nevada Republicans, including those who are Latino.
Nevada is a state with a relatively young and sizable undocumented worker population -- meaning foreign-born people working in that state's hospitality-dominated economy who are not legally authorized to do so. These people are more likely to be paid less than the minimum wage or to be expected to work under other conditions that violate other U.S. laws which some employers certainly exploit for corporate benefit. In Nevada, a full 10 percent of the state's total labor force is working illegally, according to a 2012 Pew analysis of census data. That's compared to about 5.1 percent of the nation's labor force who were doing the same that year. See what we mean? Undocumented workers are a substantial factor in the Nevada economy.
Add to that the fact that a substantial share of Nevada's fast-growing Latino population is foreign-born (comprised of both legal and illegal immigrants). In fact, Nevada's foreign-born Latino population amounted to just more than 32,000 people in 1960. By 1980, that figure had expanded to about 50,400, and in 2000 Nevada's foreign-born Latino population was made up of over 158,600 people.
Now, brace yourself for this: A building boom in Nevada and other factors which created a lot of jobs before the Great Recession boosted Nevada's foreign-born Latino population just over the 222,600-person mark in 2010. That's a 40 percent rate of growth among the foreign-born Latinos in just 10 years.
Finally, there is one other social detail to consider. We know that there is a significant Latino Mormon population in Nevada. To be clear, only 1 percent of the nation's Latino population is Mormon, according to the Pew Research Center. However, among Mormons, Latinos comprise about 8 percent of the faithful. Some of this is due to Mormon evangelism in the United States and abroad. Unfortunately, we don't have any reliable data that indicates precisely how many Latino Mormons live in Utah (there's a sample size problem here again). But, we do know that the nation's Mormon Latino population is concentrated in three states -- Utah, Nevada and Idaho. We also know that, in Nevada, the Mormon church has a large social and political influence, and it is one of the most conservative faith groups in the United States.
Taken together, there is reason to believe that a substantial share of Utah's Mormon Latinos are also likely to be Republicans and therefore amenable to some or all of Trump's ideas of a variety of policy issues, including immigration.
Okay, so what does all of that mean?
All of this is worth noting because researchers have found many of them contribute to anti-immigrant sentiment and anxiety about competition for jobs and other resources. This can often be intense. We are not saying here that it is logical, or right, but that this is a pattern across the country and a known phenomenon that may have been advantageous to Donald Trump. In other words: There might be a very small but very pro-Trump segment of the Latino population that does exist and could be duplicated in other states.
But, we are still talking about only a very small slice of a small slice of Nevada's Latino voters. There's a lot hiding inside that 44 percent -- if it is 44 percent, of course.