Donald Trump’s attacks on illegal immigrants, Mexican holidays — even a primary opponent’s Mexican-born wife — have sparked unprecedented anger and record levels of opposition among Hispanics, who are expected to vote in record numbers this year.
But according to the latest data, the numbers may not be as overwhelming as many Latino leaders and Democrats had hoped.
At least 13.1 million Hispanics are expected to cast ballots, according to estimates. That would mark a 17 percent jump in turnout and an 8.7 percent increase in the Latino share of the vote — but those numbers are on par with increases seen in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, experts say. Citizenship applications jumped 8 percent this year, similar to four years ago. Voter registration numbers are climbing in battleground states such as Florida, but that is also on par with 2012.
“Organizations did a lot this year, did capture more people, but it doesn’t appear to be a large increase,” said Mark Lopez, director of Hispanic research at the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
“I would go so far as to say that we would have seen an uptick in voter registration even if Donald Trump were not running,” he added.
Trump launched his campaign by accusing Mexico of sending rapists and criminals across the U.S. border. He attacked the Mexican-born wife of vanquished opponent Jeb Bush and the Mexican heritage of a federal judge. He posted a photo of himself eating a taco bowl on Cinco de Mayo, a move meant to curry favor with Hispanics that backfired. More recently, he attacked the physical appearance of a Venezuelan-born beauty queen.
This year, as registration rates among Latinos surged in California and naturalization rates jumped in Texas, many Hispanic leaders pointed to Trump’s moves as reasons for the uptick and suggested a Latino voter wave would upend the election.
That could still happen, but most projections expect modest turnout. Nearly 190,000 Latinos registered to vote for the first time this year in Colorado, Florida and Nevada, up from about 170,000 four years ago but down from 203,000 by this point in 2008, according to Catalist, a data firm that works with progressive groups and Democrats.
Of the 27 million Latinos eligible to vote, about 13.1 million are expected to cast ballots, according to an estimate published by the nonpartisan National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. More recent data suggests that fewer Latinos may show up.
A Pew poll found that 69 percent of registered Latinos said they are “absolutely certain” to cast ballots, compared with 77 percent in 2012. One of the sharpest declines is among those ages 18 to 35. Just 62 percent of Latino millennials say they are absolutely certain to vote this year, compared with 74 percent in 2012.
That trend should be worrying to Democrats, who will rely heavily on Hispanics in several battleground states, said Simon Rosenberg, who spent years developing Hispanic voter strategies for Democrats before establishing NDN, a liberal think tank.
“There are tens of millions of new voters in the American electorate, and the Democratic Party is still struggling to realize what they represent,” Rosenberg said. “I think the party is still working through how to best speak to and reach out to this emerging, massive new set of voters.”
The Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign are hoping to register 3 million new voters this year but declined to say how many Hispanics they hope to sign up. The campaign is using a variety of tactics, including a “My Dream, Your Vote” campaign that will send the children of undocumented immigrants — known as “dreamers” — to canvass Hispanic neighborhoods encouraging those who are eligible to vote. The campaign has also distributed voter-registration information to small businesses willing to provide the material to customers.
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said Thursday that mail-in ballot requests from key states including Florida and North Carolina bode well for Democrats. He boasted to reporters that “all the data that we’re seeing is reinforcing that this will be the biggest election and biggest turnout in our history.”
Nonpartisan groups say that Trump and his threats to deport tens of millions of undocumented immigrants were a factor.
Trump is “causing people to be more engaged and more involved and wanting to make sure they’ll turn out,” said Jared Nordlund, who runs voter-registration programs in Florida for the National Council of La Raza. “But they’re not scared, just more aware.”
In February, Univision — the nation’s largest Spanish-language broadcaster — boasted of plans to register 3 million new Latino voters, but network officials conceded this week that they fell far short of that goal. The network said it focused primarily on ensuring that public-service announcements encouraging people to register and vote were seen or heard on its TV, radio and digital properties and said that about 300,000 people attended voter-registration fairs and other public events designed to promote voting.
Telemundo, the nation’s second-largest Spanish-language broadcaster, said it directly registered 12,300 new voters through a registration campaign and a network-built app.
Larger groups said they struggled to raise money for more ambitious projects. The National Council of La Raza registered at least 65,550 voters, down from 98,000 in 2012, according to Clarissa Martínez-de-Castro, the group’s deputy vice president for research, advocacy and legislation.
“Everyone knows it’s a good thing if Americans are registered and voting, but there now isn’t a lot of investment in making sure that happens, unless it’s tied to a political or candidate agenda,” she said.
Mi Familia Vota (My Family Votes), a nonpartisan group backed by labor unions and Latino organizations, registered about 100,000 new voters in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Texas but had to scale back amid a funding shortfall.
“This can be really tough work. You go out in the 100-degree heat in Arizona or Nevada and see how easy it is,” said Ben Monterroso, the group’s executive director.
Both groups said smaller-than-expected grants came from philanthropic organizations such as the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Foundation, which is backed primarily by liberal donor George Soros. Representatives for both foundations said they have shifted attention from voter-registration campaigns to more ambitious get-out-the-vote operations that are underway across the country.
Other registration campaigns reported modest success. Dominicanos USA, based in the Northeast, said it registered about 35,000 new, mostly Dominican American voters in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island. The League of United Latin American Citizens, one of the nation’s oldest Hispanic organizations, said it signed up close to 20,000 new voters, including thousands in Iowa. And when a Trump campaign surrogate warned that the “dominant” Latino culture could lead to “taco trucks on every corner,” the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce launched a campaign encouraging taco truck vendors to hand out registration forms. The “Guac the Vote” campaign spread across the country primarily through social media, the group said.
Voto Latino, which signs up most new voters through an app, says it helped register more than 101,000 new voters. The group spreads the word through partnerships with Telemundo, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and hundreds of other groups, including the Mexican rock band Maná.
Often referred to as the “Latin American U2,” the band allowed Voto Latino volunteers to canvass at “Latino Power Tour” shows. The band mentions the registration campaign during the concert along with onstage criticisms of this election season.
At the start of a recent concert in Las Vegas, an animated video showed the mock construction of a brick wall along the Mexican border. In the video, workers lay bricks that say “odio” — hate — and “racismo” — racism — but the wall eventually crumbles amid green vines and flowers. The crowd cheered as it realized that the video was criticizing Trump.
Maná drummer Alex González said the band eagerly partnered with Voto Latino because it knows that most elections in Latin America are “complicated with corruption.”
“Here in the United States your vote is counted,” he said. “It’s very important.”
But Fher Olvera, the band’s lead singer, said he is much more concerned about the fate of American politics.
“I see the news on the TV, it looks like a reality show,” he said. “And this is not a reality show. . . . This is the biggest presidential election in the world. Come on, be a bit more serious, Americans.”
Scott Clement contributed to this report.