Donald Trump has put forward a cocktail of anti-immigrant vitriol and policy that has mobilized conservative segments of the Republican Party.
What started with name-calling - Mexican immigrants as rapists, criminals, disease carriers, and most recently “anchor babies"- has evolved into an immigration plan that would deport all undocumented persons and rescind birthright citizenship.
Many Latinos have harshly criticized and even mobilized in one way or another against Trump. But will it mobilize Latinos on the ballot box?
Every four years there is the hope and expectation that Latinos will significantly increase their voter turnout. Latinos have the dubious honor of having the lowest voter turnout rate of any racial and ethnic group. Part of this is due to Latinos being such a young demographic and we know that regardless of group, young folks do not tend to vote. In many municipalities and states, parties and organizations have not done enough to register and harness the growing Hispanic vote. And like in all groups, there is also voter apathy and disenchantment.
Voter apathy is a vicious cycle – the less you participate politically, the less motivation you have to do something different. To break this cycle a serious jolt is needed. If Donald Trump keeps up the intensity of his anti-immigrant campaign, then this may just be the spark that ignites Latino participation.
We saw Latinos jolted into action in California 20 years ago. Can the same thing happen at the national level today?
In his 1994 re-election campaign, California Governor Pete Wilson branded himself as tough on immigration. His campaign revolved around rhetoric and television ad images depicting “hordes” of immigrants overtaking our country.
In his best known ad , the narrator starts off, “They keep coming. Two million illegal immigrants in California. The federal government won’t stop them at the border, yet requires us to pay billions to take care of them.” In the ad grainy black and white images, immigrants darting across highway lanes in San Diego add urgency to Governor Wilson’s call to clamp down on immigration.
Governor Pete Wilson stoked the anti-immigrant fire not just in words but by supporting Proposition 187, a measure that denied undocumented persons access to any public services, including emergency rooms. In 1994 the anti-immigrant fervor became ablaze when Republican Governor Wilson was re-elected and Proposition 187 passed by a wide margin, 59 percent to 41 percent.
Ultimately Prop 187 was found unconstitutional by the courts. But the message to California’s Latino population could not be undone.
Prop 187 mobilized Latinos in California – registered non-voting Hispanics started to vote, unregistered Latinos registered, and non-citizen Latinos applied for citizenship – it set off a chain reaction of political activity.
In the aftermath of Prop 187, Latino voter registration increased much faster than anticipated by population growth alone. In addition to the disproportionate growth in Hispanic voters, California saw an increase in votes for the Democratic Party. Up until the early 1990s California was a more or less politically balanced state with a slight Republican tilt. The GOP’s advantage disappeared in the matter of a year in large part due to the Latino vote.
The rapid growth of a Democratic Latino voice in California became known as the Prop 187 effect. The 2016 election may see a Trump Latino effect.
Trump’s anti-immigrant comments have propelled him to lead in current polls ahead of the primaries.
But Trump’s comments may also be what propels Latinos across the country to the polls and to relegate the GOP as a permanent minority party.