- - Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Are Hispanics shifting their allegiances to President Trump?

A recent Harvard/Harris poll recorded a 10-point spike in Hispanic support for Mr. Trump. It hasn’t received much attention from the mainstream media, which is heavily invested in its portrait of the president as an unrepentant — and unpopular — “nativist.”

Coming in the midst of the nationwide controversy over children and families at the U.S.-Mexico border, it suggests that Hispanics may not be the entrenched liberal voting constituency that Democrats so often imagine.

And consider Florida’s hotly-contested Senate race. Republican Gov. Rick Scott is besting his Democratic opponent among Hispanics, according to a Mason-Dixon poll. Historically, a large and aging Cuban-American exile community has given Republicans a decided partisan edge in the Sunshine State.

But, in recent years their children and grandchildren have grown increasingly restive and independent. Meanwhile, a large concentration of Puerto Ricans, especially in the Orlando area, has continued to bolster Democratic candidates here.

Mr. Scott is leading Mr. Nelson among both Hispanic groups, a clear sign of a sea change in this key battleground state that seems to parallel the emerging national trend.

What’s going on? Hispanics, like most mainstream voters, are waking up to post-2016 America. The economic recovery disparaged by Democrats is gathering steam and Hispanics — at 17 percent, the nation’s most populous ethnic minority — are clearly benefitting. Unemployment among Hispanics has fallen to its lowest level in decades, and there’s little doubt that Mr. Trump’s pro-business policies are the reason.

There’s even more cause for optimism looking ahead. Mr. Trump’s $1 billion infrastructure plan will benefit the country as a whole, of course, but there’s a silver lining for Hispanics, who constitute nearly 30 percent of the U.S. construction workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, more than half the Hispanic job growth in recent years has occurred in construction, which is poised to expand even further as workers rebuild the nation’s long-neglected airports, bridges and roads.

Hispanic contractors and workers are already in the forefront of Mr. Trump’s border wall construction plan — a painful irony for the president’s liberal immigration critics. Most of these contractors are U.S. citizens or long-time permanent residents, proud Americans committed to keeping their homeland safe and secure.

In fact, the recent tilt in Hispanic support toward the GOP has highlighted the divergences in partisan affiliation that have existed for years, especially among different Hispanic nationalities. Most Central American and Caribbean Hispanics tilt Democratic. However, in addition to Cuban-Americans, relatively large percentages of Mexican-Americans in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and even southern California have often voted for Republican candidates.

Under Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, roughly 40 percent of Hispanics overall voted Republican. And in 2013, the New Jersey governor won an unprecedented 51 percent of the Hispanic vote in his re-election campaign against a popular Democratic candidate and her Latina running rate. Mr. Trump himself defied expectations by garnering nearly 30 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2016.

Hispanics, despite liberal pigeon-holing, defy easy characterization. Like most Republicans, they are pro-military and pro-law and order. They are also more conservative on social issues — especially abortion — than the average voter. At the same time, many support generous government support for welfare, education and health care.

Based on past polls and past voting behavior, about 20-25 percent of Hispanics consistently vote Republican in national elections. By contrast, roughly 45-40 percent vote Democratic. That leaves a “swing” constituency of about 30-35 percent. How they vote depends largely on the quality of the candidates, their leadership abilities and their attitudes toward Hispanics as an ethnic group

Immigration does play an important role in how Hispanics vote, but it is not the overriding issue that liberals so often portray it to be. Hispanics do support leniency toward undocumented immigrants that have lived and worked in the United States for long periods, paying their taxes, raising families and staying out of trouble. But they also support tough enforcement measures at the border and in the U.S. interior, including crackdowns on lawless “sanctuary” cities.

What Hispanics don’t support is a broad-based campaign against immigrants that might deliberately or inadvertently stigmatize Hispanics as a whole.

Mr. Trump, it appears, is making real progress in the face of a massive liberal propaganda campaign depicting him as hostile to Hispanics, especially Mexicans.

In addition to the practical effects of his policies, Mr. Trump’s flexibility on granting legal status to the DREAMers — which has raised the hackles of Republican conservatives — has impressed his Hispanic skeptics. And Mr. Scott’s massive statewide ad campaign in Spanish has helped him connect in areas of Florida that might traditionally favor Mr. Nelson.

Right now, it’s too early to tell what this new Hispanic voter trend may mean for 2020. But in a number of close House races in California, polling suggests that Hispanics disaffected from the Democrats are likely to sit out this November’s election, which could help the GOP retain control of Congress.

“Si se puede,” President Obama used to say. Now, it may be the Republicans’ turn.

• Stewart Lawrence is a Washington writer.

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