This was the case he made Monday night at his campaign rally in New Mexico, a state Trump lost in 2016 by eight points after predicting that it was in play. That optimism remains, it seems, with Trump arguing that the state’s large Hispanic population (making up about half the state) should back his candidacy.
“I think we’re going to do great here, and we’re here for a number of reasons, but we’re here, because we really think we’re going to turn this state and make it a Republican state,” Trump said. “Who’s Hispanic here? Latinos for Trump! Incredible people, but we have much to celebrate.”
He rattled off some economic numbers. For example: “Median income for Hispanic Americans surpassed $50,000 for the first time ever. That’s your median! That’s not bad! That means you’re, wealthy, and you’re getting wealthier fast.”
That’s true, though, as with many other similar metrics, Hispanic median incomes had been trending up even before Trump got into office.
Similarly, positive views of the economy were increasing before Trump took office. Polling from The Washington Post and our partners at ABC News shows that positive views of the economy increased steadily under President Barack Obama and then into Trump’s presidency. Trump keeps arguing that he deserves credit for where the economy is to the exclusion of anyone else who helped get it there.
But there’s something hidden in those polling numbers that makes it much less likely that Hispanic voters will rush to defend Trump at the ballot box in 2020.
Again mirroring other issues, views on the economy are divided by race, in large part because of how race overlaps with partisanship. Nonwhite Americans are more likely to be Democrats and white Americans are more likely to be Republicans. Under President George W. Bush, whites viewed the economy more positively than nonwhites. Under Obama, that reversed. And under Trump, that reversed again.
We can view this more explicitly by looking at the difference in positive views of the economy among those two groups.
If we compare those with positions at the poles of our responses, more whites say the economy is “excellent” and more nonwhites say it is “poor.”
“Nonwhite,” of course, encompasses more than Hispanic Americans. We can break out Hispanics separately: They are about as likely to say the economy is “excellent” as to say that it’s “poor.” Black Americans are much more likely to say “poor” — or, at least, they were in the last Post-ABC poll with a large enough sample of black respondents to be statistically significant.
We can make this a bit more clear by looking at average responses in each group during polling in each year. That flip among whites and nonwhites from 2017 to 2018 is not unrelated to the change in the White House in the former year. (Our only 2017 poll came before Trump was inaugurated.) It also overlaps with a flip in how those groups viewed the occupant of the White House.
Hispanics tend to fall between the views of white and black Americans. We see this in political polling regularly and in exit polling of various races. In a randomly selected group of 10 white Americans, there are about as many Democrats as Republicans, as we’ve noted before. In a group of 10 Hispanic Americans there will be two Democrats for every Republican. In a group of 10 black Americans? You might get a Republican.
There weren’t enough Hispanics polled in our most recent survey for us to break out responses by party within that group, but it’s predictable what we would find: Republican Hispanics viewing the economy more favorably than Democratic ones. Among whites, after all, we found that 90 percent of Republicans view the economy positively, compared with 33 percent of Democrats. Those numbers are similar to how the economy is viewed by those who do or don’t approve of the job Trump is doing as president: 92 percent of those who approve of Trump view the economy positively, while 31 percent of those who disapprove do.
These are the flaws in Trump’s strategy. First, Hispanics see the economy through the lens of Trump himself. In other words, Trump won’t convince Hispanics that the economy is good, because how they view the economy follows from how they feel about him in the first place. Second, there hasn’t been as sharp a shift in the economy as Trump likes to present. Trump says the economy is good because of him, but that’s not many Americans’ lived experience.
How might Trump appeal to Hispanic voters then? This is a more expansive question that has at least one obvious answer: He could do more to engage Hispanic voters and issues as president. This hasn’t been Trump’s approach to the job. He has chosen, instead, to focus almost exclusively on what his existing base wants to see.
For them, his economy pitch seems to work. For everyone else, it looks as if it won’t.