Trump Awakens a Sleeping Giant: Record Turnout for Latino Voters
Policy + Politics

Trump Awakens a Sleeping Giant: Record Turnout for Latino Voters

REUTERS/Mike Blake

The biggest irony of this election could be that Donald Trump, whose campaign was initially anchored in white anger over illegal immigration from Mexico, has mobilized Hispanic voters and driven record Latino turnout that could deny him the presidency.

In crucial Florida, 565,000 Hispanics had voted early as of Saturday, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Citing analysis by University of Florida political scientist Dan Smith, the paper said that number represents a 100 percent increase over 2012.

Smith said there has been an explosion of turnout among newly registered Hispanics and those who sat out the last presidential election.

In short, the election could be determined by the sleeping giant The New York Times recently wrote about – especially the influx of Puerto Ricans to Florida that The Fiscal Times last week said could be so important.

Related: If This Poll Is Right, Trump Can’t Win Florida -- or the Election

The Times reported that turnout has been exceptionally high in south and central Florida, with 24 percent of early Hispanic voters casting a ballot for the first time.

Asked in an email if he agreed with the notion that Hispanic turnout has been explosive, Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist who directs the United States Election Project, which compiles statistics and research relating to the election, said imply: “Yes.”

While the Hispanic vote is certainly not monolithic, if a Latino backlash takes down Trump, it will send this potent message to that community: You have enormous power in your hands if you choose to use it.

And a Hispanic-driven victory for Hillary Clinton could also force the Democrats to set an agenda that will keep Latinos inside its tent.

Related: Trump Dealt Himself a Losing Hand With Fiery Immigration Speech

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been a consistent critic of Trump, told the Times: “The story of this election may be the mobilization of the Hispanic vote. So Trump deserves the award for Hispanic turnout. He did more to get them out than any Democrat has ever done.”

It’s not like the Republicans didn’t know they needed Hispanics.

In 2012, just 27 percent of Hispanics nationally voted for Republican Mitt Romney, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. That was down from the 40 percent of Latino voters who backed George W. Bush in 2004 and the 31 percent who voted for John McCain in 2008.

After the 2012 election, Republicans talked about the importance of outreach to Hispanics – and then along came Trump, who called illegal Mexican immigrants “rapists” and drug smugglers and promised to build a 40-foot-high wall paid for by Mexico.

Had he not bested the Republican primary field, which included two Hispanic-Americans – Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas – the situation might be considerably different.

Related: Why Puerto Ricans in Florida Could Decide the Election

Today, according to a Washington Post/Univision poll, Trump can count of the support of just 19 percent of Hispanics, while Hillary Clinton is at 67 percent, with Libertarian Gary Johnson at 4 percent and Green Party candidate Jill Stein at 2 percent.

While the Republican Party has tried to continue reaching out to Hispanic voters, the Tampa Bay Times says, Trump has not run any Spanish-language ads.

Still, despite the turnout, political science professor Susan MacManus of the University of South Florida says the race in Florida remains too close to call.

She says another critical component of the vote are Millennials "and whether they vote as cohesively for Hillary as they did for Obama in 2012."

Hispanic Voter Turnout