There’s a famous election anecdote from 1972 in which film critic Pauline Kael expressed astonishment that Richard Nixon had won re-election. She was stunned, the story goes, because “no one I know voted for him.”
The story is probably apocryphal – relevant details have changed over the years – but the enduring qualities of the anecdote deserve appreciation. It’s easy, perhaps too easy, for all of us to extrapolate from our personal interactions and draw misleading conclusions based on limited data.
The Kael story came to mind today reading Peggy Noonan’s latest Wall Street Journal column in which the Republican pundit suggests Donald Trump has burgeoning support with Latino voters. No, that’s not a typo.
Something is going on, some tectonic plates are moving in interesting ways. My friend Cesar works the deli counter at my neighborhood grocery store. He is Dominican, an immigrant, early 50s, and listens most mornings to a local Hispanic radio station, La Mega, on 97.9 FM. Their morning show is the popular “El Vacilón de la Mañana,” and after the first GOP debate, Cesar told me, they opened the lines to call-ins, asking listeners (mostly Puerto Rican, Dominican, Mexican) for their impressions. More than half called in to say they were for Mr. Trump. Their praise, Cesar told me a few weeks ago, dumbfounded the hosts.I later spoke to one of them, who identified himself as D.J. New Era. He backed Cesar’s story. “We were very surprised,” at the Trump support, he said. Why? “It’s a Latin-based market!”
Noonan seems quite impressed with Cesar’s perspective. He apparently claimed Latino callers to the same radio station also sided with Trump – “He’s the man,” Cesar said of the Republican – after this week’s confrontation with Univision anchor Jorge Ramos.
Cesar went on to tell the GOP pundit that immigrants not only “don’t like” undocumented immigrants, they also agree with Trump on “anchor babies.”
Noonan went on to say that in recent travels, “almost wherever” she went, the columnist “kept meeting immigrants who are or have grown conservative.”
And 43 years ago, everyone Pauline Kael knew just couldn’t wait to vote for McGovern.
Look, I’m willing to take Noonan at her word. Let’s say she really does have occasional chats with the guy behind her local deli counter. Let’s also say her – and Cesar’s – characterization of the callers to the local radio station are accurate. While we’re at it, let’s go ahead and assume that the conservative pundit just happens to keep meeting immigrants out in the world who share her ideology.
Even if we concede all of this, the mistake is assuming it matters. Noonan is extrapolating from her personal experiences, which may feel persuasive on an individual level, but which is a poor way of understanding Americans’ attitudes in general.
A more sensible approach requires more reliable research methods. As luck would have it, we have these things called “polls,” and the independent polling of late suggests Noonan’s personal experiences are inconsistent with broad national trends.
Trump is many things, but increasingly popular with Latino voters and immigrant communities isn’t one of them.
It was just three years ago that Mitt “Self-Deportation” Romney earned roughly 27% of the Latino vote, as compared to President Obama’s 71%. Is it possible that, in the three years hence, Latino voters, en masse, have decided ant-immigrant demagogues are correct and “anchor babies” are a genuine national problem?
Sure, I suppose that could happen, but I wouldn’t make the case for it in a published column in a national newspaper after some casual chats with some people I’ve run into.