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Perspective: Colorado election will hinge on Latino turnout

Political scientist Robert Preuhs examines polling data around a key voting group in an article originally published in the Denver Business Journal.

October 24, 2016

Robert Preuhs, associate professor of political science

Robert Preuhs discusses the impact of Latino turnout in the 2016 election.

Colorado’s Latino voters are once again poised to play a pivotal role in the presidential election.

This year’s matchup between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump parallels 2012, when Latino voters in Colorado accounted for about 7 percent of President Barack Obama’s 51 percent victory over Mitt Romney.

Recent polling conducted by Latino Decisions, a leading polling firm of Latino communities, shows Colorado Latinos preferring Clinton 72 percent to 17 percent, almost indistinguishable from the 74 percent (Obama) to 20 percent (Romney) at this time four years ago. As in 2012, Latinos continue to place the economy and immigration as top priorities. What differs is the push-pull dynamics of this year’s election.

The Trump campaign’s early centerpiece proposal to build a border wall, campaign rhetoric regarding Mexican immigrants, and other immigration policy proposals generally, take Romney’s call for self-deportation a step further in alienating Latino voters. While Clinton seems to benefit from support for the administration’s immigration policies, her campaign may not be pulling Latinos to the polls to the degree Obama did, nor with the same force as Trump is pushing.

For instance, 76 percent of Latinos feel Trump has made the Republican Party more hostile to Latinos. By comparison, a slight majority feel Clinton has made the Democratic Party more welcoming. Fifty-four percent of Latinos report being more likely to vote for Democratic candidates due to Clinton’s support for immigration policies adopted by the Obama administration. A larger portion, 71 percent, are less likely to vote for Republican candidates given Trump’s opposition to these policies.

The result is that while Latinos are pulled toward a Clinton vote in November, in part due to her immigration policies, the overwhelming force for Latino voters in this election is the push away from Republican candidates, and Trump in particular – a trend that follows the trajectory predicted by the Republican’s own “autopsy” of the 2012 election.

In this election, however, the big question is turnout, and getting people to vote against a candidate is often harder than getting people to vote for a candidate.

So, will Latinos turn out to vote? The subjective importance of, and enthusiasm for, voting are key predictors. An overwhelming number of Latinos in Colorado, about 79 percent, feel it is as, or more, important to vote this year compared to 2012. Enthusiasm for voting in this election is also high, with 63 percent feeling as, or more, enthusiastic about voting this year.

Digging a little deeper, the basis for this enthusiasm is the push away from the Republican candidate. About 55 percent of Latinos in Colorado who feel that voting this year is more important than 2012 cited stopping Trump for its importance, compared to only 19 percent responding it is support for Clinton. In short, Colorado’s Latino electorate is as enthusiastic in 2016 as it was in 2012 at this time, while viewing this year’s election as more important – due largely to a desire to vote against Trump.

If Latinos do turn out in levels comparable to 2012, what impact will it have? Likely anywhere from 5 to 7 percent for the Democratic candidate – enough to tilt what may be a close election. Down-ballot races also will be affected. Sen. Michael Bennet’s support for the Obama administration’s immigration policy stance and Darryl Glenn’s opposition, have in part led to a 72-17 percent advantage for Bennet. Similar percentages prefer Democrats to Republicans in U.S. House races.

The key of course is “if” Latinos vote. While subjective importance and enthusiasm suggest otherwise, robust Latino turnout is not guaranteed in 2016.

For instance, low turnout among Latinos was a likely source of Sen. Cory Gardner’s slim victory in 2014 over Democrat Mark Udall.

If Latinos do forgo casting ballots, and at rates similar to 2014, Democrats may be in trouble. Colorado’s decisions up and down the ballot will ultimately hinge, in substantial ways, on Latinos’ decisions to vote.

This article was originally published in the Oct. 21 edition of the Denver Business Journal.