Journalists should be careful when reporting on the Republican Party's relationship with Hispanic voters not to downplay the potential harm GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump may be inflicting on the party's brand with his anti-immigrant campaign platform.
The Washington Post has run two recent articles that make a case that Trump's consistently hostile remarks about immigrants is having no measurable effect on Latino voters' general opinion of the GOP.
On August 23, a Post piece claimed that polls weren't showing any negative effect of Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric among Hispanic voters. According to The Post:
But the worst fears of the Republican establishment, that Trump's unapologetic condemnations of immigration will scuttle their shot at retaking the White House, so far aren't revealing themselves in polling.
For all of the polling that's been done in the 2016 races so far, there are a lot of gaps. A big one is that most polls don't include large samples of Hispanic voters, making it hard to isolate the views of members of that community. Often, Hispanic voters are grouped with black and Asian voters to form a statistically significant group of “non-white” voters.
If Trump's comments were hurting him and/or Republicans with voters, we'd expect to see them faring worse after the June/July period in which the comments became public -- and Trump rose in the polls.
A follow-up Post piece on August 26 headlined, “No, Donald Trump isn't hurting Republicans with Latinos,” relied on a Gallup Poll to conclude that Trump's “strongly negative image” among U.S. Hispanics hasn't “damaged other Republicans.” The article failed to mention the poll's finding that most Hispanics are “still getting to know most of the Republican contenders for president,” which means Trump's effect on the GOP-Latino voter dynamic can't be accurately measured yet.
The Post reached its conclusions despite a high-profile incident a few days earlier, when Trump kicked out Univision and Fusion anchor Jorge Ramos, the country's most prominent Hispanic journalist, from a press conference he was holding in Iowa. The Post addressed the incident's potential effect on Hispanic voters by questioning the supposed “guilt by association” theory, which holds that Hispanics will connect Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric to the entire GOP brand.
A Univision poll bolsters Gallup's findings that Latinos have yet to make up their minds about many GOP candidates, providing more evidence that suggesting Trump's effect on the GOP brand is benign is premature at best, and flat wrong at worst.
Many media outlets, including Politico, have suggested that Trump and his anti-Latino platform positions may actually be “setting the GOP agenda,” noting that “practically every candidate in the race is now engaging in and losing a war of insults, aping Trump's issue agenda and in some instances pilfering his best lines.” As evidence of Trump's ability to “influence” other Republicans, NPR ran a segment that featured several conservative Latinos who said they feel alienated by Trump's rhetoric.
And Spanish-language newspaper El Nuevo Herald reposted an analysis by Spanish-language news agency EFE that places Trump well within the Republican camp, suggesting that at least some Hispanic media outlets doesn't consider Trump all that different from his Republican competitors:
Unfortunately for the other candidates like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, Donald Trump has captured the protagonist's spotlight within the Republican party since he called immigrants “rapists and drug traffickers,” defended the deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants and proposed building a wall along the Mexican border.
Additionally, journalists who use the lens of Trump's candidacy to examine the GOP's troubles with Hispanic voters should remember that there has long been a divide between the party and the Latino community. In other words, Trump isn't causing a new Republican rift with this voting bloc, he's exacerbating an existing one.
That rift was closely examined from within the party itself in a 2012 GOP autopsy report, which concluded that Republicans needed to rebrand themselves with Latinos and “put significant effort and resources into reaching out to Hispanic media and news outlets” as part of a Hispanic outreach effort, after a disastrous loss to Democrats in the general election:
The RNC must put significant effort and resources into reaching out to Hispanic media and news outlets. This needs to be a high-level presence on all Latino media. The RNC must rebuild an updated, working list of Hispanic surrogates, not just RNC staff, to help carry and sell our message to the Hispanic community.
We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too. We must recruit more candidates who come from minority communities. But it is not just tone that counts. Policy always matters.
If we believe our policies are the best ones to improve the lives of the American people, all the American people, our candidates and office holders need to do a better job talking in normal, people-oriented terms and we need to go to communities where Republicans do not normally go to listen and make our case. We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate that we care about them, too.
If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies. In the last election, Governor Romney received just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote. Other minority communities, including Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, also view the Party as unwelcoming. President Bush got 44 percent of the Asian vote in 2004; our presidential nominee received only 26 percent in 2012.