Election polls: High Hispanic turnout could help Trump

High Hispanic turnout could actually benefit Trump, according to recent polls.

A woman in a MAGA hat holds a sign that says “Latinos for Trump!!!”

A woman holds a sign expressing Latino support for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at his campaign rally at the Orange County Fair and Event Center, April 28, 2016, in Costa Mesa, California. David McNew/AFP via Getty Images

Since Barack Obama’s reelection in 2012, many conservatives have grown increasingly afraid of the republic they claim to love.

That year, America’s first Black president won about the same share of the white vote as Michael Dukakis in 1988, when the Democratic nominee lost 40 states. But for Obama, this was more than enough. Thanks to demographic change and high turnout among Black voters, he won the White House comfortably, even as roughly 60 percent of white voters backed his opponent.

Faced with Obama’s victory, many liberals celebrated the apparent emergence of a durable Democratic majority. Many conservatives, meanwhile, eulogized their dearly departed nation. “The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore,” Bill O’Reilly declared on Fox News’s election night broadcast, as returns began looking unfavorable for Romney. “The white establishment is now the minority.”

The GOP leadership implored their party to reconcile itself to this new reality. In its “autopsy” of the Romney campaign, the Republican National Committee argued that “If Hispanic Americans hear that the GOP doesn’t want them in the United States, they won’t pay attention to our next sentence.” It counseled Republicans to embrace immigration reform.

But others on the right took the opposite view. In their eyes, moderating on immigration would only deepen the dispossession of “traditional America.” Conservatives needed to arrest demographic change, not acquiesce to it. Republicans had to keep left-leaning groups out of the country and those already here, away from the polls.

This perspective ultimately carried the day. Conservatives proceeded to kill immigration reform in Congress and enact a variety of voting restrictions in red states.

Right-wing intellectuals, meanwhile, rationalized contempt for liberal democratic norms. In a 2016 essay, Michael Anton argued that the “ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty” was turning the electorate “more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle.” The left was therefore “on the cusp of a permanent victory,” and allowing the Democratic Party to wield power any longer would be tantamount to national suicide. A few months later, Anton became a senior White House official.

In the years since Trump’s election, many Republicans have embraced this apocalyptic outlook on immigration — and a related irreverence for democratic niceties.

And yet, during the same period, the right’s strategic fears of demographic change and majority rule have become increasingly misplaced. In recent elections and opinion polls, Republicans have made substantial gains with nonwhite voters, even as they’ve embraced a militantly nativist agenda. Indeed, in a New York Times/Sienna poll released over the weekend, Hispanic voters actually favor Trump over Joe Biden by a six-point margin.

At the same time, the GOP’s growing support among working-class voters has given the party an interest in making it easier for people to vote. Whereas high turnout used to reliably benefit the Democratic Party, today it is arguably the Republicans who have an interest in widespread voter participation.

The conservative movement still faces long-term demographic challenges, with the Christian right claiming scant support among America’s rising generations. But that is not a problem that can be solved by restricting immigration, passing voter ID laws, or advertising your movement’s enthusiasm for autocracy. To the contrary, such actions are likely to be counterproductive.

Of course, none of this will be persuasive to white nationalists, who view demographic change as bad by definition. Yet white conservatives who have no problem with ethnic diversity per se, and simply worry that their values will be politically irrelevant in a multiracial America, should calm down.

Conservatives are radicalizing against immigration and democracy

A few years ago, the idea that a rootless, cosmopolitan elite was attempting to replace America’s white majority through lax immigration enforcement was a far-right conspiracy theory. Today, it is something approaching Republican orthodoxy.

Mike Johnson, the GOP speaker of the House, has espoused a version of “the great replacement” theory, albeit one shorn of explicit racial content. In May 2022, Johnson declared that Democrats “intentionally open our borders” because they want to “TURN ILLEGALS INTO VOTERS!”

Republican Sen. J.D. Vance expressed similar sentiments that same year, explaining that Democrats “have decided that they can’t win reelection in 2022 unless they bring in a large number of new voters to replace the voters that are already here.” Missouri Sen. Eric Schmitt has also accused Democrats of “fundamentally trying to change the country” through immigration.

Earlier this month, Elon Musk posted that “Almost every illegal is a Dem voter. Therefore, the Dem Party will not take action until they lose more votes due to ushering in vast numbers of illegals than they gain.”

For his part, Donald Trump gestured at the theory in remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) over the weekend, saying that his “first and most urgent action” as president would be to “send Joe Biden’s illegal aliens back home.”

This rhetoric is incomprehensible unless one posits that by “illegals,” Republicans really mean “recent nonwhite immigrants.” Undocumented immigrants cannot vote by definition. And evidence for widespread voter fraud among such immigrants is nonexistent. What is true is that asylum-seekers and undocumented immigrants are heavily nonwhite, that nonwhite voters are heavily Democratic, and that conservatives have lost some political and cultural influence as the US population has grown more diverse.

The right’s fundamental complaint then is not with undocumented immigration or voter fraud, but rather, the political implications of legal forms of immigration and voter participation. Tucker Carlson copped to this position on Fox News in 2021, when he argued that “the immigration Act of 1965” was a worse “attack on democracy” than the January 6 insurrection. “That law completely changed the composition of America’s voter rolls, purely to benefit the Democratic Party,” Carlson said. “That seems like kind of an assault on democracy, a permanent one.”

If conservatives want to keep presumptively Democratic-leaning groups out of the country, they’ve also grown preoccupied with keeping them away from the polls by curtailing voting rights and accessibility. Trump continues to mount a personal crusade against mail-in voting, telling Fox News’s Laura Ingraham this month that states where voters can mail their ballots “automatically have fraud.” Not all Republicans endorse that particular conspiracy theory, but 13 red states enacted new voting restrictions in 2023.

Not all conservatives were born in the USA

When Trump conquered the GOP, the party became more virulently nativist – and also, more popular with Hispanic Americans.

In 2016, Trump won 29 percent of the Hispanic vote, which was roughly comparable to Mitt Romney’s showing in 2012, according to the Democratic data firm Catalist. But four years later, his share of the demographic swelled to 37 percent.

Initially, many attributed Trump’s gains to unique features of the 2020 cycle. Latinos were disproportionately likely to lose work as a result of shutdowns, and might therefore have backed the less COVID-conscious candidate out of fear of unemployment.

But subsequent elections and polling indicate that many Hispanic voters have durably realigned. In the 2022 midterm elections, Republican candidates won roughly the same share of Latinos as Trump had two years earlier.

And there’s reason to believe that this result actually masked a broader rightward shift among Hispanic voters writ large. According to a June 2023 report from Equis, a progressive research organization, Latino voters who cast a ballot in 2020 – but sat out the 2022 election — favor a Republican over Biden by a 54 percent to 34 percent margin.

As noted above, Trump leads Biden with Hispanic voters by 6 points in the latest Times/Siena poll. And other surveys have produced similar results. A CNBC poll released in December found Latinos supporting Trump over Biden by a 5-point margin. The following month, a USA Today/Suffolk University poll produced the same result.

These findings should be taken with a grain of salt. Biden won 63 percent of Latino voters just four years ago; it would be extremely unusual for a demographic group to swing by more than 13 points in the span of a single election cycle. Nevertheless, the broader polling data indicates that Trump has expanded his support among Hispanic voters substantially.

Public opinion data also suggests that Republicans could win an even larger share of Latinos if they had a slightly less hateful standard-bearer. In recent surveys, Hispanic voters have tended to express a preference for Republicans over Democrats on inflation and handling the economy, while roughly two-thirds say Biden has accomplished not that much, little, or nothing in office.

On immigration policy, however, the demographic’s views remain to the left of the American public’s writ large. It’s reasonable to suspect, therefore, that a GOP nominee who didn’t want to deport longtime US residents en masse might win a larger share of the voting bloc. And in fact, Trump’s main primary rival, Nikki Haley, boasts a 12-point lead over Biden among Hispanic voters, in the new Times/Siena poll.

To be sure, Hispanic voters still say the Democratic Party cares more about people like them than Republicans do. And they hold many left-of-center views on issues as varied as environmental regulation, health care, and gun control. Yet the GOP has made essentially no effort to counter the impression that it cares little about Latinos as a group. And the fact that Hispanic Americans are torn between liberal impulses on some policy questions, and conservative ones on others, makes them no different than many other voting blocs. The same could be said of working-class whites in the industrial Midwest. Yet that group’s liberal views on abortion and health care policy have not prevented them from voting for Republicans by landslide margins.

Recent immigrants are no more inherently hostile to Republican politics than third- or fourth-generation ones. To the contrary, foreign-born Latinos tend to be less supportive of abortion rights than the US public as a whole, while foreign-born Black immigrants are more opposed to marriage for same-sex couples.

Naturalized US citizens are also more likely than native-born ones to say that they are “very proud” to be American, to be religiously observant, and to care for their elders. It is therefore conceivable that increasing restrictions on immigration would accelerate the American public’s drift away from social conservatism.

Of course, none of this will matter much to conservatives who oppose nonwhite immigration out of sheer racism. Nor will it provide comfort to those who believe that immigrants drive down native-born Americans’ wages or (more plausibly) increase their housing costs. But those who share Michael Anton’s fear that allowing more nonwhite people into the country will hand Democrats a “permanent victory” should know that this simply is not true.

Voter suppression doesn’t necessarily help Republicans win elections.

If the GOP’s hostility toward immigrants is plausibly counterproductive in political terms, this is even more true of the party’s attempts to make voting more difficult.

For much of the modern era, Democrats have enjoyed disproportionate support among young, low-income, and nonwhite Americans, who all have a lower propensity to vote than US adults as a whole. For this reason, high levels of voter turnout tended to increase the party’s odds of victory.

But Trump’s ascendance accelerated a decades-long, leftward shift among college-educated voters, a group that has an exceptionally high propensity to vote. In 2012, Obama won 46 percent of college-educated white voters; eight years later, Biden won 54 percent of the demographic.

This has dramatically changed the relationship between turnout and partisan advantage. In a 2022 paper, political scientists at the universities of Auburn, Rice, and Texas A&M documented this shift. Drawing on correlations between partisan preference and propensity to vote obtained from survey data, the researchers simulated the impact that higher or lower rates of turnout would have had on recent US elections.

They found that Obama would have won by even larger margins had voter turnout been higher in 2008 and 2012, as voters who were on the fence about participating in those elections leaned Democratic. By 2016, however, Democrats ceased to derive an unambiguous benefit from higher levels of voter participation. Four years later, the partisan implications of higher turnout flipped: Had vote participation been 20 percent higher in 2020, then a pool of Trump-leaning marginal voters would have made their voices heard, and the Democratic Party’s vote share would have fallen by 0.6 percent, while a 20 percent reduction in turnout would have increased Biden’s margin by nearly a percentage point.

These findings have been borne out by subsequent polls and election results.

In 2023, Democrats routed Republicans in low-turnout special elections. This was partly due to the overrepresentation of college graduates in such elections; according to polling from the New York Times and Siena college, special election voters were about 10 percent more college educated than registered voters as a whole. But the Democrats’ advantage among high-propensity voters is deeper than the education divide. Within every demographic category in the Times/Siena poll, Democrats perform better with high-turnout voters than low-turnout ones. In other words: A white, college-educated voter who consistently casts a ballot in every federal election is much more likely to be Democratic than a white, college-educated American who rarely votes.

As noted above, Hispanic voters who sat out the 2022 midterm appear to be much more Republican than those who showed up at the polls that year. And this is true of the broader electorate. In December’s Times/Siena poll, Trump led Biden by 2 points among registered voters, but trailed the president by that same margin among likely voters. The more recent version of that poll shows Trump ahead with both likely voters and all registered ones, but he once again did worse with the former than the latter.

Last October, a Grinnell College survey found that 2020 Trump voters were 4 points less likely to say they were definitely going to cast a ballot this year than 2020 Biden voters. Around the same time, multiple surveys from Marquette University Law School found Biden performing 4 points better among likely voters than registered ones.

All this suggests that it is Republicans who have a political interest in making it easier for people to vote.

This is a difficult reality for both progressives and conservatives to digest. The left has a much stronger investment in the ideal of popular sovereignty than the right does. And for decades, partisan interest reinforced this ideological divergence. As far back as 2002, Mitch McConnell was arguing that “voting is a privilege” from the Senate floor.

But now, any reform that marginally increases the difficulty of casting a ballot threatens to deter more Republicans than Democrats. Of course, there are still ways for the GOP to disenfranchise left-leaning voters specifically. Slashing resources for heavily Democratic precincts, or disenfranchising felons in states where the formerly incarcerated population is disproportionately Black, can benefit Republicans electorally. But voting restrictions that apply to all universally, such as reductions in voting hours or voter ID laws, may actually hurt the GOP’s cause.

The right should take a deep breath

All this said, conservatives do have cause for fearing that demographic change is rendering them a permanent minority on key policy questions. But this has less to do with immigration than generational replacement. Millennials and zoomers are much more socially liberal than their forebears. The Christian right’s agenda is already deeply unpopular in the US and is poised to grow steadily more so over time.

But that is not a problem that immigration or voting restrictions can solve. Fully dispensing with democracy altogether — and attempting to entrench a theocratic regime — is no more plausible an endeavor. You aren’t going to be able to dictatorially rule over a nation whose mass public and educated elite both overwhelmingly oppose you, and where every major center of economic growth is dominated by the political opposition.

Thus, the right simply has no alternative but to adapt to America’s changing demographic and cultural landscape. But as the developments of the past eight years demonstrate, this won’t require forfeiting all that conservatives hold dear. To the contrary, Republicans have managed to diversify their coalition even as they implemented a wildly unpopular revolution in abortion policy, and became more rightwing on immigration. Judging by recent polls, if the party were merely capable of nominating Nikki Haley — an extremely conservative politician by conventional metrics — it would be poised for a Reagan-esque popular-vote landslide.

So conservatives should stop hyperventilating about their “great replacement” or the left’s “permanent victory.” For the right, demography is not doom. Republicans are doing just fine. The party may need to make some adjustments in order to thrive in an increasingly multiracial America. But it is possible to assemble a rainbow coalition of reactionaries. Indeed, if polls are to be believed, Trump is on his way to doing just that.

Sourse: vox.com

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