While many Latinos - including some actively involved in the Republican party - have been decrying the steady rise of Donald Trump's candidacy, he may very well serve as a solution for political involvement.
Latino turnout rates have been stagnating for decades in presidential elections and Pew Research finds that turnout rates fell to their lowest recorded rate in 2014, to just 27 percent in the midterm election. In the last presidential election, Latinos showed up to the polls in fewer numbers than in 2008, with only 48 percent of eligible voters participating.
Low turnout rates for Latinos are a perpetual sore on the political landscape. It illustrates too much of what is wrong with American politics; that political participation requires resources, institutional support, and it requires from the participant a sense that their efforts to be heard will be heeded by the system. These institutional factors are still in their infancy for Latinos.
However, Donald Trump would bring greater understanding for Latinos of the forces and interests at work underlying his rise to power within the GOP. With a year of speeches and debates Latinos know exactly where Trump supporters stand. The clarity Trump brings to the election would give Latinos an easier choice to make and hopefully provide Latinos with the same focus that Trump has been able to provide for his supporters.
It is clear that a big factor in the rise of Donald Trump’s candidacy is an "us versus them" view towards minorities. For instance, 78 percent of Republican voters in Alabama support a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country; it's 68 percent in Georgia and 74 percent in South Carolina. It was in South Carolina where a poll found that 40 percent of Trump voters support shutting down all mosques in the United States, with 24 percent who are not sure. Also in South Carolina, almost four-in-ten of Trump’s supporters wish that the South had won the Civil War, with another 38 percent not sure.
This may sound like a fool’s errand, and this is not to say that Trump would not appeal to certain minorities, as well. For instance, a recent poll by the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) found that Donald Trump is the most favored Republican in the race. Exit polls in Nevada, as flawed as they have been deemed regarding Latino sentiment, have suggested that Trump was favored by Latinos participating in the GOP caucus, even if he is overwhelmingly disliked by Latinos in general.
However, Latinos who feel under attack have demonstrated before that they will respond to these actions against them. Researchers see evidence that Latinos in Arizona have registered in growing numbers in response to the debate over SB1070, the anti-immigrant law requiring police to determine the immigration status of someone arrested or detained when there is “reasonable suspicion” that they are not in the U.S. legally.
Research has shown similar responses elsewhere, such as in California following the Proposition 187 initiative in 1994, which deputized state employees to screen for citizenship status for anyone seeking medical care, public education, or other state services. This initiative pushed by Pete Wilson resulted in a backlash by Latinos from the GOP to the Democratic party that has proven to be a historic turning point.
With Trump as the candidate there is no mistaking why someone is supporting him, regardless if they are white or minority, but we should not ignore that the vast majority of participants in the GOP primaries are non-minorities: 96 percent white in South Carolina, 88 percent in Georgia, 93 percent in Alabama, 94 percent in Tennessee, and so on.
Trump validates a very real sentiment of anger, much of which is directed toward immigrants, Muslims, and other minorities that has even spilled over into high school basketball games. Should that sentiment have its say in the marketplace of ideas rather than submerged into the vagaries of obscure policies Latino voters will have a clearer understanding of the interests and influences underlying the decision for president. A recent New York Times story reports that Latinos are already responding to Donald Trump. If the threat that Donald Trump poses does not work in getting Latinos to turn out, it’s hard to imagine what other short-term factor will.