They are Latinos for Trump -- and their existence cannot be denied.
Although polls show Hillary Clinton with as much as a 50-point lead among Latino voters
, Donald Trump still manages to get the support of almost 20% of Latinos
. That's nearly one in five of America's largest ethnic minority group. So why would any Latino support the presidential candidate who has run the most anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant campaign in modern history?
Latinos actually support Trump for the same reasons that some other Americans do. Although their motivation may seem misguided, their support for Trump speaks to the overall diversity of the Latino electorate. Latinos for Trump are a product of factors both prosaic and complex.
US Latinos currently number around 55 million
. The Pew Center estimates that 27 million of them are eligible to vote in the presidential election
. These huge numbers encompass recent arrivals and people whose ancestors have been on American soil since it was part of Mexico. It encompasses bodega workers and CEOs. U.S. Latinos can be natural-born citizens or immigrants from more than 20 countries across Central and South America.
US Latinos can be black
, Asian, Jewish, Mormon
, evangelical Christian, LGBT, and everything in between. It is unrealistic to expect such an enormous group of potential voters to fall into ideological lockstep. Assuming that Latinos will not support Trump is a simplistic way of looking at our communities.
It is also a mistake to expect Latino voters to mirror African-American voters. An October CBS News poll found Trump with just 4% support
from likely African-American voters (in a four-way race including Gary Johnson and Jill Stein). But Latino voters are far less monolithic than African Americans due to differences in our collective experiences.
The defining moments in African-American history include slavery, the southern civil rights movement and the election of our first black president. For Latinos these moments are immigration, relations with Cuba and the civil rights movement in the southwest. So while the interests of Latinos and African Americans may overlap on many issues, each electorate is informed by a unique and different history.
What's more, the ugliness of Trump's immigration rhetoric does not necessarily resonate as an issue with all Latinos. Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans, for example, do not share the same immigration concerns as Mexican Americans. In fact, new research from Latino Decisions
breaks down the top concerns of Latino voters by region. While immigration was the top concern of Latinos in California, in Texas Latinos were most concerned with lowering the cost of health care. New York Latinos were most concerned with improving wages, while terrorism was the top concern of Latinos in Florida.
Like other voters, some Latinos are attracted to Trump's promises of change, his message on jobs, and his outsized public image. His ability to channel a populist sense of outrage has won over some Latinos, too. Trump could have probably earned more Latino support had he stayed on an aspirational message and not derailed himself by launching attacks on everyone from a Latina former Miss Universe
to a distinguished Mexican-American judge
Many prominent Latino conservatives such as Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
(R-Fla.), former Bush Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez
and syndicated columnist Linda Chavez
have refused to endorse Trump. Yet Latinos can be just as partisan as anyone else. Among the roughly one-quarter
of Latino voters who identify with or lean towards the GOP, there are no doubt those who simply cannot bring themselves to vote for a Democrat. No matter how they might feel towards Trump, they still prefer him to Clinton.
There are likely deeper forces in play here as well. Historically, Latinos have been portrayed negatively
by the media. It is not far-fetched to think that some Latinos have unconsciously absorbed these messages and then acted upon them. Such "internalized oppression," as sociologists call it, is not unlike homophobes who have been revealed to have issues with their own sexuality
Thus we have Latina Trump supporter A.J. Delgado insisting that Trump did not insult
Latinos when he called immigrants "rapists" and criminals. Or the head of Latinos for Trump, Marco Gutierrez, on MSNBC warning of "taco trucks on every corner
." Their positions make more sense when we see them as a result of years of ingesting inaccurate stereotypes and fear-mongering.
In a perfect world, no one would vote for Trump, given his bigotry, misogyny, Islamophobia and xenophobia. He is unqualified in virtually every relevant way for the presidency. Still, those who choose to support him have the right to do so, regardless of their ethnicity or background.
Our democracy is a multicultural, messy jumble of ideas and opinions. Like it or not, Latino Trump supporters fit right in.