The Latino surge of 2016: Early voting points toward the real "hidden voters" of this election?

Behind all the handwringing about the "working class," pundits may be missing this election's biggest surprise

By Heather Digby Parton


Published November 7, 2016 1:02PM (EST)

 (Getty/Jewel Samad)
(Getty/Jewel Samad)

Back in the early days of the presidential campaign I wrote a Salon column about the devastation that former California governor Pete Wilson had wreaked on the Republican Party when he awakened the sleeping Latino giant with his crude campaign against immigration.

You would think that the rest of the GOP would have learned from his mistake: The once-dominant California Republican Party is such a shell of its former self that there is literally no possibility a Republican will be elected to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer. (Both remaining candidates are Democrats.) If this year's turnout among California Latinos is high, it might get worse.

Republican leaders knew about this. The "autopsy" they did after 2012 was very explicit about the party's need to reach out to Hispanic communities or risk losing the presidency for the foreseeable future. That report famously observed:

If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies. In the last election, Governor Romney received just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote. Other minority communities, including Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, also view the Party as unwelcoming. President Bush got 44 percent of the Asian vote in 2004; our presidential nominee received only 26 percent in 2012.

Members of the Republican base weren't having it. When Donald Trump came along and articulated their rage at Latino immigrants, any hope of such outreach was abandoned. And it looks like they may have committed the same fatal error that Wilson made 22 years ago in California.

Last Friday night ace Nevada reporter Jon Ralston called it: Latino early voting in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, was about to go through the roof. Turnout had been beating expectations throughout the early voting period, but on the last night there were long lines at voting places in predominantly Latino areas and by law officials had to hold the polls open to ensure everyone would be able to vote.

At the end of the night Ralston declared that Trump's hopes of winning Nevada — which is crucial to his Electoral College math — had been dashed. The Latino vote had surged beyond all expectations (if the polling was even close) for Republicans to correct the vast majority were voting for Hillary Clinton.

More stories of massive Latino voter turnout emerged over the weekend from all over the country. Florida is showing a huge surge, a rise of 75 percent from 2012, with more than a third of these people being voters who haven't cast ballots before, a group that may not be showing up as "likely voters" in opinion polling. According to the New York Times:

In Orlando, voters waited up to 90 minutes on Saturday at one early voting location at a library, some spending the time taking pictures of one another in front of candidates’ signs. Parking lots for a quarter-mile surrounding the area were packed.

Mrs. Clinton clearly carried the day there. Jon-Carlos Perez, 30, an independent voter and a concrete laborer originally from Puerto Rico, said he cast his vote for Mrs. Clinton in part because “she’s not an idiot like Trump.”

Alyssa Perez, 23, a doctoral student at the University of Central Florida who voted at another busy location in Orlando, said she considered Mr. Trump to be “anti-women, anti-Hispanic, anti-Muslim” and said, “I don’t want to live in a country where there is a president who has those kinds of views.”

Canvassing on Saturday morning in North Miami, Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union, and a handful of local members focused on households, many of them Haitian or Hispanic, with an infrequent voting history. But nearly every resident who answered their door assured her they had already voted.

In Arizona, Latino voters have the dual motivation of voting out the notorious Republican Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, one of Trump's major endorsers. Democrats there have a strong get-out-the-vote effort with a coalition of 14 organizations mobilizing the community. Latino early voting has reportedly doubled from 2012.

In North Carolina the early vote is up 75 percent; it's up 25 percent in Colorado. Most pollsters will admit that surveys that don't sample Spanish-speaking households — as most do not — and are almost assuredly undercounting Clinton's share of support.

If these communities continue to turn out on Election Day, it could signal what analyst Ronald Brownstein described this way on Twitter:

Much of the commentary credits Trump's racist message with motivating these communities, and there's no doubt that this has galvanized people. As Sen. Lindsey Graham has put it,  "Trump deserves the award for Hispanic turnout. He did more to get them out than any Democrat has ever done.”

But as a Monday report in The New York Times explains further, that's not the whole story. Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats have been working with Lation communities for years, knowing very well that this is a young demographic that's set to grow substantially over the next few years.

[T]hey set out to reach them in their communities, talking to them in their language, with the belief that touching them in the most personal way possible, at churches, bodegas, bus stops and nail salons, was also the most persuasive. And the effort was focused on more than registering potential voters. Democrats sought to make electoral politics part of the daily conversation for a demographic that had until now largely sat on the sidelines.

The Clinton campaign targeted Latinas in particular:

Starting in Nevada, the campaign convened groups of women to discuss issues that were important to them, like health care and education. After each meeting, the women were asked to write down the names and contacts of five other women who might support Mrs. Clinton. The program, called “Mujeres in Politics,” was deemed such a success that the campaign replicated it in Colorado and other states with large Hispanic populations.

Clinton's campaign has struck a bold stance on immigration policy, in stark contrast to that of any previous candidates for president, including Barack Obama. Clinton is arguably to Obama's left on issues of undocumented immigration and deportations and has said she will make immigration reform a priority for her first 100 days in office. One of her most effective ads was the following one featuring a young girl whose parents may face deportation:

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Most of these immigrants are hardworking folks, doing manual labor or service jobs — people who are also benefiting from unionization drives (which aren't easy) and a helping hand from government for health care and education. They contribute massively to our economy, our culture and our society. All those pundits and analysts who been wringing their hands over the plight of the angry Trump voters and the Democrats' alleged abandonment of the working class don't even seem to see these working-class people.

There are millions of these newly energized voters all over the country and they are voting in vast numbers. With Trump's threats and Clinton's outreach, after this election they will very likely be Democrats with a lot of clout in a party that has an agenda that might actually be able to deliver for them. If Trump's voters can cool down and clear their heads, they might realize they'd be better off standing with these folks than against them.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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2016 Presidential Campaign Donald Trump Elections 2016 Hillary Clinton Hispanic Vote Latino Latinos