A recent protest against Donald Trump in New York offered a blunt critique of his policy ideas. Photo by mal3k (Creative Commons).
When Donald Trump infamously kicked off his presidential campaign with the statement that Mexican immigrants are rapists, Honduran-American actor America Ferrera responded with a thank you note. “What you just did with your straight talk was send more Latino voters to the polls than several registration rallies combined! Thank you for that,” she wrote. But that was July 2015. Most of the country thought that Republican voters would come to their senses or be won over by the Jeb! Machine. Oh, how much has changed in a year.
A year after Trump’s despicable campaign kick-off, progressive activists must realize that all that talk about Trump “igniting the Latino vote” is actually a huge test. How much power will Latina/o voters be able to exert in this election?
Brooklyn resident Jerónimo Saldaña is selling Trump parody hats to raise money for Latina/o rights group Mijente.
The biggest increase in Latina/o voters has come from young people reaching age 18. According to the Pew Research Center, “Hispanic millennials will account for nearly half (44 percent) of the record 27.3 million Hispanic eligible voters projected for 2016—a share greater than any other racial or ethnic group of voters.” The next biggest Latina/o voter base consists of immigrants who have become citizens. Between 2012 and 2016, some 1.2 million Latina/os went through the naturalization process and are now eligible to vote. The third largest source of new voters are people leaving Puerto Rico, then moving to the U.S. mainland. (Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but their votes do not impact the presidential race). In November 2015, the Americas Society predicted that ten percent of voters in this year’s presidential race will be Latina/o. This would be up from the 2004 election, in which only seven percent of voters were Latina/o and when George W. Bush won 40 percent of the Latina/o vote.
On one hand, these new voters have the numbers to be the deciding factor in the presidential race. In February, a Washington Post and Univision poll revealed that 80 percent of Latina/os hold unfavorable views of Trump. According to the New York Times, Trumps ascendency has spurred many immigrants to speed up their citizenship processes so they can make sure to vote against him in November. “He gave us that extra push we needed to get ready to vote, to prove to people who see us negatively they are wrong,” Mary Victorio, a 22-year-old Mexican-born Denver resident, told the paper.
Trump running for president has unintentionally turned into a pretty effective get-out-the-vote effort for Democrats.
But having negative views of Trump and being citizens do not necessarily translate into votes against him. In past elections, Latina/os have made up a huge percentage of people who are eligible to vote but have had low turnout at the polls compared to other demographics. In 2012, only 48 percent of Latina/os who were eligible to vote actually cast their ballots. The first step is registering voters. This year, as the Los Angeles Times reports, there will be around 27 million Latina/os eligible to vote in the United States, including big communities in battleground states like Colorado, Nevada, and Florida. Getting them to the polls will mean registering millions of them to vote. There are some big hurdles to registering voters, especially in states where new voter ID laws make it more difficult to register. As a Frontline investigation found:
“Laws that require photo ID at the polls vary, but the strictest laws limit the forms of acceptable documentation to only a handful of cards…African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to lack one of these qualifying IDs, according to several estimates. Even when the state offers a free photo ID, these voters, who are disproportionately low-income, may not be able to procure the underlying documents, such as a birth certificate, to obtain one.”
But there are some bright spots. Registering to vote as a legal resident became more streamlined last September, when President Obama started a national campaign pushing legal residents to register. Now, legal residents can pay a $680 fee and practice the civics test online and can get voting rights applications in public libraries. Political organizing group Voto Latino has not even started their official voter registration drive and has already registered 4,000 new voters this year.
A protest against Trump at Grand Central Station in New York this April. Photo via A Jones (Creative Commons).
With the growing population and the surge in voter registration, can the Latina/o community sustain the anger over Trump’s remarks to fulfill the potential power they hold? I will take Nate Silver’s lead on predictions at this point and wait and see.
Meanwhile, both the Mexican government and a private group of Mexican-American businesspeople are waging PR battles against Donald Trump. The newly formed business lobbying group known as the American Mexico Public Affairs Committee, founded in March in response to Trump’s looming candidacy, is forming a super PAC to support pro-Mexican candidates. “Its objective is to send a signal there will be a cost to using Mexico and the Mexican diaspora as a political piñata,” Arturo Sarukhan, a Mexican former ambassador to the United States and informal adviser to the PAC, told the Miami Herald. At the same time, the Mexican government is gearing up to launch a major educational campaign in June to counter Trump’s rhetoric about Mexico “killing” American trade and being full of “rapists.” As Mexican Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu explained, “The best way to respond to xenophobic, or racist, or uninformed positions is with information, not with adjectives.”