Politics & Government

Latino voter expert: Trump has no support to lose

Akemi Vargas, 8, cries as she talks about being separated from her father during an immigration family separation protest, Monday, June 18, 2018, in Phoenix.
Akemi Vargas, 8, cries as she talks about being separated from her father during an immigration family separation protest, Monday, June 18, 2018, in Phoenix. AP Photo

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is already at rock bottom support with Hispanic voters, according to a Democratic firm studying Latino voter patterns.

That reality could leave little incentive for the president to address a growing humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, Albert Morales, senior political director for the Democratic polling firm Latino Decisions, told McClatchy’s Beyond the Bubble podcast Tuesday.

A “zero-tolerance policy” implemented by the Trump administration in April to address illegal border crossings has drawn criticism from both Republicans and Democrats in Washington. It's being blamed for a sharp increase in the number of children separated from their families at the border — resulting in heart-wrenching photos and videos.

“We’re obviously in the field constantly, and right now I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of change in the intention to vote [in upcoming elections], from our party, because it’s already pretty high,” Morales told BtB.

Exit polls from the 2016 election showed Trump taking roughly a third of the Hispanic vote nationwide. Republican and Democratic strategists estimate Trump’s actual support was closer to the high teens, citing election eve polls and precinct level analysis.

“We started seeing signs of Latinos fleeing the Republican Party as early as last year,” said Morales, who served as director of Hispanic engagement for the Democratic National Committee leading up to the 2016 presidential primaries. “We’re probing voters who had not voted, for example, in the presidential, and there’s a lot of remorse.”

(Check out last week’s Beyond the Bubble episode: Getting political reporting right in 2018)

Democrats have long believed awakening a sleeping base of non-voting Latinos could help them crack Republican-leaning states like Texas and Arizona. Both states have large Latino populations and host competitive statewide races this November.

Still, Morales, a Fort Worth native, said aversion to Trump doesn’t necessarily translate into new Democratic voters, thanks to the party's leftward march on social issues.

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, each took more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in their most recent elections in 2014 and 2012. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, took 47 percent in his 2014 re-election — besting his Democratic challenger’s performance with Latinos.

"I think what’s held the Republican coalition is… Texas is the heart of the Latino Bible Belt,” Morales told BtB. “[S]ome of their social views are tied lock-step to the [GOP]. Even today, some of them struggle to believe [the Democratic Party] has a place for them.”

McClatchy’s Beyond the Bubble show is produced by Jordan-Marie Smith and Davin Coburn. Alex Roarty, a national political correspondent for McClatchy, and Andrea Drusch, Washington correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, recorded this episode at McClatchy’s Washington Bureau, June 19, 2018.