President Trump and the Latino vote

Christian Paz, writing in The Atlantic, warns Democrats to worry about the Latino vote in this year’s presidential election. According to Paz, the Trump campaign is doing an excellent job of reaching out to a key segment of the Latino vote — evangelicals. By contrast, Democrats are “struggling to engage Latino voters, address issues beyond immigration reform, and treat Latinos as the influential voting bloc they are.”

Only Bernie Sanders has engaged in effective outreach to Latinos, says Paz. Reportedly, the Sanders campaign has hired more than 150 Latino staffers around the country. However, much of Sanders’s focus is on California. This may stand Sanders is good stead in the California primary but it won’t help him defeat Trump in the electoral college.

Outreach aside, the Democrats should also worry about the tendency of Latino voters (not unlike the electorate in general) to give incumbent presidents a bounce. Four of the five most recent presidents increased their share of the Latino vote when they ran as the incumbent. The lone exception is George H.W. Bush. He ran during a downturn in the economy. President Trump likely will run during a lengthy economic surge.

The four presidents who increased their Latino vote share as incumbents include two Republicans. Ronald Reagan increased his from 35 to 37 percent; George W. Bush from 35 percent to 40 percent.

Of the Democrats, Bill Clinton’s share of the Latino vote rose from 61 percent to 72 percent, an increase explained in part by the fact that Ross Perot was a less formidable third party candidate in Clinton’s second run. Barack Obama’s share rose from 67 to 71 percent.

Barring an economic downturn this year, Trump will be running on an economy that, depending on how one measures its health, is roughly as strong as the best economy any of his five predecessors enjoyed when they sought reelection. Latinos have benefited significantly.

President Trump received 28 percent of the Latino vote in 2016, a number comparable to what Mitt Romney and John McCain received as non-incumbents, but well below that of the Bush 43 and Reagan when they ran as incumbents.

If Paz is right about the Trump campaign’s vigorous outreach to Latinos and the comparative neglect of most Democratic candidates, then given the historical trend, it’s quite possible that Trump will fare significantly better among Latino voters in 2020 than he did in 2016. Indeed, his incumbent bounce could exceed match or exceed the five point increase from which Bush 43 benefited in 2004.

The likely electoral consequences of such a bounce should, as Paz says, worry Democrats.