Trump’s Hispanic support in 2016 was in line with that received by other recent Republican nominees. Exit polls showed Trump received 28 percent of the Hispanic vote, a number confirmed by subsequent analysis by the Pew Research Center. This was one point higher than Mitt Romney received in 2012 and only three points lower than John McCain got in 2008. That’s not what one would expect given the common wisdom.
Hispanic voters also bucked the conventional wisdom in 2018. Despite relentless media coverage of Trump’s immigration policies and Trump’s own focus on “the caravan” winding its way to the U.S. border just before Election Day, Hispanics gave Republican House candidates 29 percent of the vote. That’s right: Republicans got a slightly higher share of the Hispanic vote in 2018 than Trump did in 2016. This is in contrast to the white vote, which moved decisively against Republicans.
These results are corroborated by data about changes in partisan affiliation under Trump. The Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends project polled Hispanics in 2018 and asked which political party they identified with. The share who are Republican increased by three percentage points from 2016 to 2018, albeit from a low 24 percent to a still-low 27 percent. The share who are Democrats went down, from 64 to 62 percent. That, too, is not consistent with the narrative we regularly hear.
Trump’s current job-approval rating among Hispanics suggests there’s further room for him to grow. Three recent polls break out his ratings among Hispanics, and they range from a low of 29 percent in one poll to 37 percent in the other two. Presidents tend to obtain about the same share of the popular vote as their most recent job-approval rating, so this indicates that Trump might break 30 percent of the Hispanic vote if the election were held today. Pretty good for a man who has been universally reviled as an anti-Hispanic racist.
History is also on Trump’s side. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both received significant increases in their Hispanic vote totals in their reelection bids. While they surely were aided because they were former governors in states with large Hispanic populations, they also both took tough foreign policy stances and presided over growing economies. It’s not hard to see how Trump is similar in these ways to his Republican predecessors.
Increasing Trump’s share of the Hispanic vote to 31 percent from 28 percent doesn’t sound like much, but even that slight uptick could be enough to fuel his reelection. Hispanics are a significant component of the electorate in the key states of Florida, Arizona and Nevada. Hiking his share of the Hispanic vote by a mere three percentage points in each state shifts the margin by about a point in his favor. Raise it by 5 points, and Florida becomes safe for Trump, Arizona becomes difficult for Democrats to win, and Nevada becomes a toss-up. Trump would still lose Hispanics by large margins, but the slight reduction in the degree of that loss would pay huge dividends.
Trump is not going to win New Mexico. But he can win more Hispanic votes than he did in 2016. If his new effort is successful, it could help him just enough to put him over the top.