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Why Trump Won the Latino Vote in Nevada

By: Daniel Raisbeck - @DanielRaisbeck - Feb 25, 2016, 10:28 am
Trump has made it a point to single out just illegal immigrants. (NPR)
Trump has made it a point to single out just illegal immigrants. (NPR)

EspañolAccording to exit polls from the Nevada Republican caucus, Donald Trump not only defeated his rivals in the state, but he also received the greatest support from Latino voters.

A stunning 44 percent of Nevada GOP voters who identify as Hispanics chose Trump as their presidential runner.

The New York businessman nearly matched the combined Latino votes of senators Marco Rubio (29 percent) and Ted Cruz (18 percent), even though Trump’s main rivals are of Cuban descent.

This outcome has surprised political pundits, who predicted Trump would not be successful among Latinos after his tirade against Mexican immigrants. In June 2015, when Trump announced he was entering the presidential race, he vowed to build a continuous wall along the US-Mexico border, and make the Mexican government pay for it.

The furious reaction to Trump’s comments — even celebrities such as Shakira or Pitbull publicly denounced Trump’s racism — made many analysts think that Trump would face serious resistance from ethnic minorities.

News agency AFP, for instance, wrote in July 2015 that Trump had “met a wave of criticism from the Latino community over his statements on Mexicans.”

Nevada voters, however, seems to have largely refuted this theory. Even those polls that showed that 79 percent of Latinos found Trump’s comments about Mexicans offensive could also be questioned in terms of their relevance to electoral outcomes.

Trump himself, in fact, has claimed that he will win the Hispanic vote because he thinks Latinos are “unbelievable people” and because he will “create jobs.”

I want to advance two reasons why Trump is winning votes among Latinos or, at least, why his controversial stance is not hurting him.

First, Trump makes sure that his criticism is aimed at illegal Mexican or Latino immigrants. According to economist James Kielkopf, no more than 15 percent of Latinos in the United States — a community with at least 50 million people — reside in the country illegally.

Therefore, it is entirely possible that Trump’s argument resonates with a significant portion of the 85 percent of Hispanics who reside legally in the United States. This is especially the case when he states that the problem is illegal immigration, not “the people that are here and have gone through the process.”

In fact, a Gallup poll from September 2015 found that two thirds of Hispanics oppose an increase in legal migration to the United States. In other words, one could expect that an even higher percentage — at least 70 percent — of US Latinos are against illegal immigration, even when it comes to other Latinos who enter the country without following due process.

At the same time, the pundits who predicted that Hispanics would punish Trump at the polls made the mistake of seeing Latinos as a monolithic, united group who base their voting decisions on “Hispanic issues.”

Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. Besides the fact that all politics is local — Nevada Latinos vote tend to vote thinking of Nevada issues, just as the New York Hispanic thinks about his own state — the Latino community in the United States is rather divided.

To give an example, Puerto Ricans residing in Florida — a growing group given the island’s financial collapse — do not necessarily have a natural affinity with Mexicans who crossed the Texan border illegally. The Puerto Rican, who is a US citizen by birth, in fact, may not even know many Mexicans, and he may not even speak Spanish if he didn’t grow up in the Commonwealth.

[adrotate group=”7″]So it is feasible that, in the final stretch of the presidential race in November, the Puerto Rican Florida resident might support Trump despite his unfortunate comments about undocumented Mexicans. And he may very well choose Trump because he think he would indeed create more jobs than his rival.

It should be kept in mind that, according to some polls, Americans usually trust the Republicans more than the Democrats in terms of running the economy.

Ultimately, pundits’ incapacity to explain Trump’s success among Latino voters is rooted in their same inability to understand his immense popular appeal.

As Brendan O’Neill writes in The Spectator:

The Washington Post, America’s foremost purveyor of the bland post-politics politics, asked actual psychologists to give their take on the Trump-following blob. Their conclusion? That they love Trump because he tells them their problems are ‘simple and easy to solve’. CNN diagnosed the Trump army as being in the grip of ‘racial and economic fear’. Gawker dispensed with the cod-psychology and went straight for the plebs’ jugulars: they’re simply driven by ‘profound stupidity’, it sniffed.

The great irony of this disgust for Trumpites is that it is precisely such treatment of a vast swathe of the American electorate as dumb or mad or both which has made many see Trump as a refreshing alternative.

None of this doesn’t mean that Trump’s ideas are not harmful, nor that his economic proposals are not based on the serious error of viewing the economy as a zero-sum game, where if someone wins, someone else must necessarily lose.

But it is necessary to admit that Trump’s electoral strategy is wildly successful, and not just among white, racist, and xenophobic males. At least in Nevada, that was not the case.

Translated by Daniel Duarte.

Daniel Raisbeck Daniel Raisbeck

Daniel Raisbeck is the PanAm Post's Chief Editor. He ran for Mayor of Bogotá in 2015 as an independent candidate. Follow him @DanielRaisbeck.