February 05, 2017

Experts examine Latino voters’ role in Clinton election loss, gains on local level

While Latinos clearly supported Hillary Clinton (66 percent) over Donald J. Trump (28 percent) in the 2016 presidential election, the percentage of the Latino vote for the Democratic candidate was down from 71 percent in 2012, while it was up 1 percent for the GOP candidate.

Maria Blanco, Executive Director of the Undocumented Legal Services Center at UC Davis School of Law and Victoria M. DeFrancesco, political scientist with the University of Texas in Austin


In 2012, while Mitt Romney won a similar share of Latino voters as Trump, 71 percent of Latinos voted to re-elect President Barack Obama back then.

So what happened? Why didn’t Latinos participate at higher levels for Clinton in 2016?

Several experts came together Feb. 3 to answer the question and share their insights on Latino voters at “Analysis of the Latino Vote in the 2016 November Election: Trends in the Latino Electorate” during the Midyear Meeting in Miami.

National, local and online media outlets reported the Latino vote as the demographic slated to make a huge difference in electing the first woman president of the United States.  “There was a lot at stake in this election and they had a lot to lose,” said panelist Victoria M. DeFrancesco, a political scientist with the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. 

“Of the 13.6 million Latinos, who voted, many thought Hillary Clinton would easily win,” DeFrancesco said. But she explained that both the Clinton and Trump campaigns failed to invest substantial resources in securing the Latino vote as did the electorates of 2008 and 2012.

Latinos care deeply about the political process in this country. “When they don’t hear from candidates and campaigns on a consistent basis, they don’t believe the political process will have any impact on the concerns they really care about,” said panelist Arturo Vargas, executive director, National Association of Latino Elected Officials Educational Fund.

One example involved the Latino communities in Florida and Nevada that were of prime interest in 2016 to the Clinton and Trump campaigns and received overwhelming media attention.

Arturo Vargas

Arturo Vargas, executive director, National Association of Latino Elected Officials Educational Fund

But, Latinos concentrated in Texas, New York and California took notice that they received no attention from the Trump or Clinton campaigns or the media. “Thus, these communities along with smaller Latino communities around the country felt ignored,” said Vargas.

Panelist Manuel Pastor, director, Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, University of Southern California, said that being ignored, as well as an uncertain economy and a growing social distance, affected the outcome of the 2016 election that led to Donald Trump’s victory:

“If the Latino community had been mobilized effectively, the results of the presidential election would have been different,” Pastor said.

“Although the candidate of choice for most Latinos did not win the 2016 election, Latinos still made huge gains in congressional, state and local races”, said Vargas.

In Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio was victorious in reclaiming his seat and in Nevada, newly elected Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto defeated her opponent.

The U.S. House of Representatives elected seven new Latino members: three in California, one in Florida, one in Nevada, one in New York and one in Texas.

“The 2016 Latino electorate in Congress increased from 29 to 34 because of increased voter turnout at the local level, thus supporting the rationale of a Latino voter surge,” said Vargas.

At the state level, two Latinos were elected into political office in Delaware and Illinois, which now totals 13 in statewide office across the country. There was also an increase of 10 Latinos elected to lower house positions, resulting in a total of 77 Latinos holding political office in lower and upper houses.

And although there were significant political gains, Vargas said the growing number of potential Latino voters could have had an impact on the election except for the additional barriers that exist for Latino voters.

“There are a number of states with unfair voting policies and restrictions on voter id laws, a lack of voter precincts, voter registration records and limited early voting options, which denies Latinos their right to cast their vote,” said Vargas.

“Analysis of the Latino Vote in the 2016 November Election: Trends in the Latino Electorate” was sponsored by the ABA Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights & Responsibilities.

Executive Director Maria Blanco of the Undocumented Legal Services Center at UC Davis School of Law, participated as moderator.