President Donald Trump’s immigration policies could take Texas and other states with big Latino populations down the same path as reliably Democratic California – if Republicans in Congress don’t support the Dream Act, a new Democratic poll suggests.
Leaders of the Latino Victory Project, which paid for the nationwide poll, found Hispanic voters overwhelmingly disapprove of Trump after his first eight months in office. Trump won 28 percent of the Latino vote in the 2016 election, according to exit polls. The new survey, conducted earlier this month, showed 24 percent approve of the job he’s doing now.
And unlike polling conducted before the 2016 presidential election, Latino voters in this survey ranked immigration issues as their top priority for Congress and the White House to address – overtaking jobs and the economy, which led Hispanic voters’ concerns last year.
Republicans countered Wednesday that Democrats won’t be able flip red states on immigration issues alone. They cited disorganized Democratic state parties and past Republican success with Hispanic voters among their reasons.
Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist in Austin, said Texas Republicans are still in a “strong position” headed into 2018, in large part because Democrats haven’t fielded serious challengers for many races.
He said that Trump had already caused a “backslide” of support from Hispanic voters though, and that the president doesn’t align with many Texas Republicans on the immigration issue.
“The demographics of the state of Texas dictate that Republicans are going to have to improve their performance with Hispanic voters,” said Mackowiak. “What ultimately gets done on DACA will have some significance.”
The survey comes as Congress grapples with how to deal with the nearly 800,000 people living in the country under an Obama-era program Trump has vowed to end.
This week, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, joined with Democrats on a possible solution. Democrats hope to rally support for the Dream Act, which would protect DACA holders is from deportation, and offer them with an eventual path to permanent residency.
“We believe that the Dream Act will have a significant impact in the upcoming midterms,” Latino Victory Fund president Cristobal Alex said in a call with reporters Wednesday. “Latinos will support candidates who are in favor of the Dream Act, and will oppose those who are against it.”
The Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, gave temporary legal status to children brought into the country illegally by their parents. Trump asked lawmakers to come up with a solution for current DACA holders once the program expires in six months.
Alex said the crisis created by ending DACA has the potential to be "a national Prop 187 moment," referencing an anti-immigrant law pushed by former California Republican Gov. Pete Wilson in 1994. Voters in California approved that law through a ballot initiative. It was later found unconstitutional. Analysts said the initiative helped spur Democratic gains in the state.
California gave Democrat Hillary Clinton 62 percent of its votes in the 2016 election. in large part thanks to Latino voters, who made up 31 percent of the electorate and picked Clinton with 71 percent.
Texas has the second largest Hispanic population, behind California, but Democrats have struggled to turn them out to vote, particularly in midterms. Party leaders in the state have openly suggested they hope backlash to Trump will help change that.
The survey of 755 Latino adults said candidates from either party supporting the Dream Act would benefit. It found 88 percent of Latino voters said they would be more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate who supported the Dream Act, and 77 percent said they were more likely to vote for a Republican who supported it. It found Trump’s disapproval at 76 percent among Latinos, and 53 percent ranked immigration reform and the Dream Act as their top legislative priority, more than any other issue.
Democrats hope to use the survey data to persuade the House to vote on the Dream Act.
“As the poll makes clear, a significant percentage of Latinos now feel the Republican Party is now hostile to the Latino community,” said Texas Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro, who serves as vice chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “But it also reflects an opportunity for Republicans to regain confidence and trust of Latinos.
Democrats got some encouragement on that front this week, when Barton, the dean of the Texas delegation, announced his support for the Dream Act. That move drew praise from some Democrats, including Castro.
“I don’t view this as some big controversial issue, I think it’s common sense,” he said. “When this bill comes up for a vote, I won’t be the only Texas Republican who votes for it.”
Andrea Drusch @AndreaDrusch