Equity & Diversity Opinion

Latino Vote Implications for Trump, the GOP, and Bilingual Education

By Charles Taylor Kerchner — October 31, 2016 5 min read
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Californians are poised to pass Proposition 58, which would restore bilingual education and strike down a generation-old prohibition on most dual language instruction.

Passage would be good news for the 1.4-million English Learners in the state, but it signals bad news for Donald Trump and his followers, and it puts the Republican Party on the wrong side of history.

Proposition 58 is necessary because in 1998 there was Proposition 227 that made English-only instruction the standard of the state. That measure followed 1994’s Proposition 187 that would have denied education and other services to undocumented residents had it not been declared unconstitutional.

Trigger Rising Latino Voting

Together they are widely seen as the trigger for rising Latino electoral participation and the decline of the GOP in California. In 1994, Proposition 187 was the key to Republican Gov. Pete Wilson’s tough-on-immigration reelection campaign. In one ad, in language that previewed Trump’s, the narrator begins, “They keep coming. Two million illegal immigrants in California. The federal government won’t stop them yet requires that we pay billions to take care of them.”

Republican turnout surged. Wilson won reelection and Proposition 187 passed with 59 percent of the vote.

The victory proved to be short-lived. The anti-immigrant tone of the Republican campaign provoked the emergence of a new California electorate. In 1990, Latinos comprised under 10% of all voters, and 65% of them voted Democratic. By 2012 Latinos cast nearly 22% of the state’s ballots, and 78% of them voted Democratic.

The electoral effects were swift and stark. Between 1948 and 1992 the state supported Republican presidential candidates in 9 of the 10 elections. It has not favored a Republican nominee since.

For decades, California’s Orange County was synonymous with white Republican conservatism. The population in Santa Ana, the county seat, is now 78% Latino, as are all seven city council members. The main shopping venue is officially Fourth Street, but it’s mostly called Calle Cuatro.

The rise of Latino political activism is seen statewide, where there are more than 1,300 Latino elected officials at all levels. The leaders of both houses of the legislature are Latino, as is the secretary of state and the former mayor of Los Angeles. The current mayor, Eric Garcetti, speaks Spanish and describes himself as “just your average Mexican-American, Jewish, Italian.” All are Democrats.

A National ‘Prop 187' Effect?

It is not certain that there will be a “Proposition 187, Proposition 227" effect nationally in the wake of Donald Trump’s insults and threats to Latinos. But it’s likely. According to a recent Pew survey, 75% of registered Hispanic voters polled said that they had discussed Trump’s comments with friends or co-workers.

First, there are sheer numbers. The NALEO Educational Fund has predicted that 27.3-million Latinos will be eligible to vote in next week’s election. They predict that 13.1-million will cast ballots, a voter turnout of 48%, which was the experience in 2012. (63% of non-Latino voters went to the polls in that election.)

But the NALEO projections were made before the “Trump effect” was felt in the campaign. If the nation follows California’s pattern after Proposition 187, and the turnout rate moves up by 20%, then we might see a Latino turnout closer to 15.7-million.

These votes may elect Hillary Clinton and also influence numerous down ballot races. They could flip the U.S. Senate into the Democratic column.

In the latest NALEO/Telemundo tracking poll, 69% of respondents said that they would be more likely to support Democrats in Congress than Republicans. They listed comprehensive immigration reform among their top three issues, along with jobs and wages, and favorably associated these issues with Democrats. 72% percent of these registered voters said that they were more enthusiastic about this election than the contest four years ago.

This, despite the fact that, 56% of those polled said they had not been contacted by either presidential campaign by mail or in person. The impacts could be even greater if voting rights were more vigorously enforced. Many respondents to the NALEO/Telemundo poll including (25% of Mexican-Americans) reported they had experienced difficulty in voting: being told that they could not vote or experiencing long lines at the polls.

Arturo Vargas, NALEO Educational Fund executive director, said his organization has called on the U.S. Department of Justice to deploy poll monitors and other resources. “Recent comments by candidates that call into question the right to vote for Latinos and millions of Americans are outrageous, counter to our values as a nation, and downright dangerous,” Vargas stated in a press release.

Signs suggest that Donald Trump may have triggered a wider Latino voting consciousness-raising nationally, just as Pete Wilson did in California two decades ago.

Heavy Early Voting

Early voting among Latinos has been heavy in Florida and may swing that state toward Clinton. The state is shifting left, and there are indications that younger voters have turned against Sen. Marco Rubio, who was considered the magnet to bring Latinos into the Republican Party. He was booed at a Calle Orange street festival in Orlando. Rubio is still favored to retain his senate seat, but stands as a test of identity politics vs. issue orientation.

The Latino vote may well swing the vote in key races that will determine control of the Senate: Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Nevada where Catherine Cortez Masto leads in the polls against Republican Joe Heck. Republican John McCain is predicted to retain his Senate seat in Arizona, but the both the turnout and the division among the Latino vote may signal a significant political shift in that state.

So, as Californians go to the polls they will likely vote to reinstate bilingual education, and at the same time they will turn the page on a chapter of electoral history in which it was politically attractive to attack immigrants, particularly Latinos. The nation is likely to follow, both in this election and in future ones.

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