Most people are surprised to learn that nearly 30% of U.S. Hispanics voted for Trump in 2016. Hispanics, it turns out, are not a homogeneous group. Over 50% are U.S. born with roots in 20 countries of origin, each with its own rich cultural and political heritage. The world, however, has changed considerably since 2016. Voters have a clearer idea of the president’s policy priorities and leadership style.
To quantify voter sentiment, ThinkNow conducted a nationally representative survey of 1,500 Americans in early March 2020 with an oversample of minority groups to see if support for the president has shifted and to gauge the influence of issues relevant to minority voters on choosing a president.
Stated Voting Vs. Election Day
First, we asked a sample of 1,000 likely voters who they voted for in the last presidential election and whether they planned to vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate in 2020. Support for the Democratic candidate was virtually unchanged from 2016. The data shows that 49.2% of all voters said they voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and 49.5% said they would vote for the Democratic candidate in 2020. Support for the president, however, declined considerably.
It’s difficult, however, to know the accuracy of stated voting behavior since survey respondents aren’t always forthcoming with their actual voting choices come election day. But, the drop in stated Republican support from 42% to 33.4% presents a challenge for the president. Nine percent of respondents stated they were unsure about their 2020 support at this point. All would have to decide in favor of the president to match current Democratic support.
When broken out by ethnicity, the key drivers of this freefall become clearer. Support among Non-Hispanic Whites fell from 51.4% to 42.6%, and minority support fell to even lower levels than they were four years ago. African American support, at 11.2%, is the lowest among any group while Asian and Hispanic support fell by higher percentages than all other groups.
Support Among Hispanic Voters Declines
When considering the drop in voter preference by ethnicity, the decrease in Non-Hispanic White support appears most damaging as they will make up the largest proportion of voters in 2020. One can argue, however, that the president does not need to gain the support of all Whites if he can motivate that group within his base and get them out to vote. The same cannot be said about minorities since the base to motivate is small. While Asian stated support in 2020 is considerably lower, they will likely constitute less than 5% of the electorate. Hispanics will likely consist of 10% of voters, which is similar to African Americans. Still, Hispanic support has fallen at twice the level of African American support, which makes their decline in support more significant in real numbers.
The decrease from 26.8% to 18.6% support among Hispanics is an 8.6% decline at face value, but that means that 30.6% of 2016 Hispanic Republican voters are no longer stating support of the president. That is the most significant decline as a percentage of the 2016 vote among any ethnic group. Hispanic voters, therefore, with their swelling numbers and increased political awareness, may swing the 2020 election.
Hispanic Voters are Socially Conservative, or are they?
Seeing that they have the potential to decide the outcome of the upcoming presidential election, both political parties are courting the Hispanic vote by trying to understand what motivates them. To help articulate their preferences, we asked both Democratic and Republican Hispanic likely voters to tell us what issues are important to them when choosing who they’ll vote for president in 2020. We found some surprising differences.
- Hispanics are often described as socially conservative, the assumption being that their support for issues like LGBTQ rights is not as strong as other groups. While certain segments of the U.S. Hispanic population, such as the religiously affiliated, are more conservative, likely Hispanic voters of both parties are actually more liberal than other voters.
- Hispanic Democratic voters rate Climate Change, Anti-Poverty Programs, Justice Reform, and LGBTQ Rights between 5% and 13% points higher than all Democratic likely voters. While still a bit more liberal, Hispanic Republicans are more similar to other Republicans than Hispanic Democrats are to other Democrats. This dispels the myth that Hispanic voters can be courted with socially conservative messaging.
- Interestingly, one key difference for Hispanic Republicans is their rating for a Strong Military. Only 30% of Hispanic Republicans think it’s extremely important versus 48% of all Republicans. This lesser support for strong militaries may stem from the frequent military juntas that ruled Latin America in the ‘70s and ’80s.
Supporting a Wartime President
The world is convulsing under the strain of COVID-19. With the 2020 election several months away, it’s difficult to say how voters will behave in the privacy of the ballot box having gone through what they have over the last several months. The response to the current pandemic has been compared to a war, and wartime presidents tend to be favored during elections. But, if current stated preferences are any guide, the Republican party has a daunting challenge ahead as it works to secure a second presidential term.