Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives for a caucus night rally, Feb. 23, 2016, in Las Vegas.
Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP

Trump took a victory lap for winning the Latino vote. Here’s why he’s wrong.

Donald Trump took a victory lap after winning the Nevada Republican caucus this week, appearing almost gleeful that he won an equivalent share of Latino support as the GOP’s two Hispanic presidential hopefuls combined.

But before the celebrity real estate mogul tries to beat Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz in their own Hispanic-heavy home states, a new poll out Thursday splashes some ice cold water on the narrative that “Latinos love Trump.

A resounding 80 percent of Latinos nationwide have a negative opinion of Trump, according to a new Washington Post/Univision poll, putting him in dead last in terms of Latino support, trailing far behind all other presidential candidates.

More pressingly, any Democratic candidate would handily carry the Latino vote over the Republican presidential front-runner in hypothetical general election match-ups, the poll found. Bernie Sanders bests Trump among Latinos 72 percent to 16 percent. Hillary Clinton similarly matches in beating him 73 percent to 16 percent.

This is fairly consistent with what we’ve seen in past polling. Bottom line: In the best-case scenario for Trump, if the general election were held today, he’d lose Latinos by 56 points.

So why the disparity between the Nevada results and the national poll?

'Winning, winning, winning': Trump's big night in Nevada
Donald Trump won the Nevada Republican caucuses by a near-landslide early Wednesday, his third straight victory.
The major shock out of Nevada’s GOP caucus results was not that Trump won the Latino vote by 18 points – it’s that he won any Latino support at all.

Trump’s demagoguery and racial dog whistles have been well-documented throughout his 2016 run. It started on his campaign’s first day, literally, when Trump called Mexicans racists and murderers. Latinos have since taken his comments deeply personally, galvanizing a movement from within the community to stop Trump at all costs. 

Even Trump seemed slightly staggered by the results of Tuesday’s Nevada entrance polls. “And you know what I’m really happy about? No. 1 with Hispanics,” he said during his victory speech on Tuesday night. “I’m really happy about that.”

Two things help explain the phenomenon: Nevada is home to a very small pool of Republican Latinos to begin with, and their voting patterns reflected those of white voters a lot more than not.

Only 132 Hispanics were surveyed in Republican entrance polls. And as the polling group Latino Decisions pointed out Wednesday, 84 percent of Latino voters in Nevada identify as either Democrats or Independents. And so even though Trump did carry 45 percent of Latino Republicans, a more accurate framing would be that he won a very, very small share of all Latinos statewide.

It’s particularly relevant that nearly a third of Hispanic caucus-goers in Nevada identified as very conservative, almost perfectly mirroring the views of whites. Issues with the economy reigned as a major concern for those conservative Latinos – 33 percent said it was the No. 1 issue facing the nation, compared to 29 percent of white caucus-goers who said the same.

Only 19 percent of Hispanics and 20 percent of whites said immigration was the top concern facing the country.

That’s not all to say conservative Latinos are some type of anomaly in American politics. Many Latinos tend to be business-minded, religious and socially conservative. And for many second-, third- or fourth-generation Americans, and beyond, immigration is simply not a top issue that resonates as it does for recent immigrants.

Hispanics of Cuban or Puerto Rican descent, who tend to lean more conservative on the spectrum, also have a very different outlook and personal experience in dealing with immigration. Cubans able to set foot on U.S. soil are allowed to apply for permanent status after a year, and citizenship soon thereafter. Puerto Ricans are American citizens by birth.

Contrast that with the experiences of recent immigrants from Mexico, who make up 64 percent of all Hispanics living in the U.S. Major obstacles to even legal immigration and a surge in illegal migration throughout the 1990s help explain why Mexican natives also make up more than half of the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.

Alienating those immigrants could cost the Republican Party. Assuming that the Latino electorate will grow at rates seen in prior elections – a fairly conservative assumption considering that young people who’ve recently hit the voting age will account for nearly half of Latino voters – this is bad news for Republicans.

Mitt Romney’s disastrous 23 percent of the Latino vote in 2012 led to some major soul-searching among Republican elites who very publicly decided that the party needed to make strides to appeal to Hispanics. Things aren’t much better these days. Analysis from Latino Decisions found that the next Republican presidential nominee would need to hit a 47 percent threshold of the Latino vote in order to win in November.

In essence, if Trump were to become the nominee, which seems all the more likely with each primary and caucus result, he will have to more than double the Latino support than what the comparatively far more moderate GOP candidate won four years ago.

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Trump took a victory lap for winning the Latino vote. Here’s why he’s wrong.