How an ‘awakened giant’ used its power on Election Day

In the West, Latino voters did turn out—just not the way analysts expected.


Add this to the list of stunning upsets in this year’s election: President-elect Donald Trump, who ran a campaign fixated on an anti-immigrant platform, captured more of the Latino vote than Mitt Romney did in 2012. 

Leading up to Election Day, a historic increase in Latino voter turnout seemed possible—and while this year’s support for a Democrat waned, that thesis proved true. According to FiveThirtyEight, national exit polls suggest Latinos did make up a larger share of voters overall this election than they had in previous ones: 11 percent this year, up from 10 percent in 2012 and 9 percent in 2008.

Those national numbers are hardly the “surge” that many media outlets forecasted in the days and weeks leading up to the presidential election. Like so many other groups, Latinos just didn’t do what analysts, political scientists and pundits expected (High Country News included). Nationwide, 65 percent of Latinos supported Hillary Clinton, while 29 percent voted for Trump. Compare that to 2012, when President Barack Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote; Romney secured 27 percent.

Clinton this year failed to beat or even match Obama’s 2012 numbers among minorities. According to an analysis by Pew Research, Clinton’s support from Latinos was similar to Obama’s in 2008; however, Clinton’s share of the Latino vote was lower than in 2012, when 71 percent of Latinos voted to reelect Obama.

But some analysts say polls distorted the number of Hispanic voters that turned out to vote this year. As a counter, the Washington Post and LatinoDecisions came up with a exit poll of its own that accounted for an increase in the number of Latino voters by weighting their numbers with geographic census information on where Latinos live. (Other polls often use random samples, which don’t purposefully include places that have higher relative populations of Hispanic voters.) Their result found that Trump received only 18 percent of the Latino vote, the lowest of any presidential candidate. 

Compared to the rest of the country, though, Latino voters in Western states turned out in historic numbers and voted more resoundingly for Clinton. In Arizona, 84 percent of Latinos voted for Clinton. The growing clout of Hispanics there, though, wasn’t enough to flip the state, as some analysts predicted. Arizona went to Trump, 50 percent to Clinton’s 45. In California, Colorado and Nevada, 80 percent or more Latino voters went for Clinton. She carried all three states.

Still, President-elect Trump’s administration could disproportionally impact Latinos across the West, if they don’t take action on climate change as promised. According to an October study by the Natural Resource Defense Council, “geography, occupation and socio-economic disparities” make Latinos in the United States particularly vulnerable to climate-related threats. Additionally, Trump’s threat to deport undocumented residents could target those that have immigrated recently.

In his first 100 days in office, Trump has pledged to get rid of Deferred Action permits, which were instated by executive action issued by Obama in 2012 and allowed undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children to stay. Juan Gallegos, an undocumented young man from Mexico who works for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, featured in High Country Newsstory prior to the election, could lose the permit that allows him to stay and work in the country. “I’m worried about the direction of this nation,” Gallegos says. “But I’m still not afraid. The world will be watching what happens next. If injustice comes to thousands of people and there are mass deportations, there will be consequences.”

Homepage image: Erik Hersmann, Flickr user.  

Paige Blankenbuehler is the Assistant Editor at High Country News. She tweets

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