The Impact Of The Trump Effect On Latino Voter Turnout

Hispanic voter voting in polling place
Hispanic voter voting in polling place

by Adrian D. Pantoja, Ph.D.

Will Donald Trump's inflammatory rhetoric increase Latino voter turnout?

Some contend that Latinos will turn out in record numbers as a result of Republican nominee Trump's attacks against immigrants, creating a so-called 'Trump effect." A similar phenomenon was observed in California in the mid-1990s, when an anti-immigrant initiative and governor led to an increase in Latino naturalizations and voter turnout. This was subsequently referred to as the "Prop 187 effect", a reference to the anti-immigrant initiative Proposition 187. Others argue that anger and insults are not enough to mobilize Latino voters in this election, that Latinos are too diverse to be similarly impacted by Trump's rhetoric. Still others argue that turnout is largely induced through voter mobilization drives rather than psychological factors, further mitigating the likelihood of a Trump effect.

Voter turnout is driven by a number of determinants, including socio-demographic resources, mobilization drives, and psychological factors. The degree to which these and other factors impact Latinos is a matter of contention. Nonetheless, no one would argue that psychological factors such as fear, anger, and enthusiasm are inconsequential. Will they be important enough to drive Latino turnout in this election? Or will Latino turnout be driven by factors unrelated to Trump's divisive campaign?

Having written extensively on the Prop 187 effect, I confess that isolating a Trump effect is challenging because data on Latino voting behavior are incomplete. The analysis of the effects of Proposition 187 came years after the initiative appeared in 1994. By then, the record documenting Latino naturalization, voter registration, and turnout rates was more extensive.

Nonetheless, the 2016 election data currently available provides some clues as to a likelihood of a Trump effect. For several weeks I have been analyzing Latino political attitudes and behaviors using survey data from the 2016 Latino tracking poll sponsored by the National Association of Latino Elected Officials Education Fund and conducted by Latino Decisions. This week I turn my attention to analyzing the prospects of a Trump effect.

Because much of Trump's rhetoric has been directed at undocumented immigrants and refugees, it is hypothesized that if the Trump effect materializes, it will result in higher rates of turnout among Latino immigrants. From the data above, we have some evidence that Latino immigrants intend to turnout at higher rates than U.S.-born Latinos. Also, we asked respondents if they believed it was more important to vote in this election than in the 2012 election.

The data (not reported) show that 71 percent of Latinos say that this election is more important, but the feeling is strongest among immigrants (74 percent) relative to native-born persons (70 percent). While the attitudinal gaps reported above appear modest, it is important to note that given the socio-demographic profile of immigrants, the gaps should be in the opposite direction. In other words, U.S.-born Latinos should be leading across these two indicators given that they have higher levels of education, income, and other resources that are predictive of higher rates of turnout.

Scholars challenging the existence of the Trump effect incorrectly assume that psychological motivators operate separately from mobilization efforts. In fact, both of these social forces can be mutually reinforcing. In the survey, we asked respondents whether they have encouraged friends and family to vote or whether they have not engaged in this activity. Overall, 60 percent of respondents say they are encouraging others to vote. The results in Figure 2 show that immigrants are mobilizing friends and family to a greater degree than native-born Latinos. Sixty-eight percent of immigrants say they are encouraging others to vote, compared to 54 percent of native-born Latinos, a gap of 14 points. Perhaps this is the best evidence we have to date of a Trump effect among immigrants. Immigrant Latinos are energized to vote and are simultaneously engaged in mobilization efforts by encouraging friends and family to turnout and vote.

Throughout this election scholars and pundits have speculated on whether Donald Trump's rhetoric against immigrants will have a mobilizing effect on Latinos. It will take time after the election to fully assess whether there was a Trump effect and the degree to which it may have increased the size of the Latino electorate. Nonetheless, preliminary survey evidence is encouraging in that we are finding a Latino electorate that is energized and engaging others to vote. Among Latinos, it is immigrants that are most intent on voting and engaged in mobilization efforts. Evidence from the field is also reassuring. Returns from early voting in Hispanic-majority counties also suggest dramatic increases in voter registration and turnout.

For example, in El Paso County Texas (an area that is 81 percent Hispanic), early voting was running 106 percent higher than in 2012. El Paso has a high immigrant population and is a city located next to the U.S.-Mexico border--an area that would be directly impacted by Trump's immigration policies. All of the available evidence to date reveals Latinos broadly, and immigrants in particular, will turnout and vote against Trump and other Republicans in record numbers for running a divisive campaign against immigrants.

Adrian D. Pantoja, Ph.D., is Senior Analyst at Latino Decisions and Professor of Politics at Pitzer College.