Posted on September 11, 2015

Donald Trump Doesn’t Need Latino Voters to Win

Bruce Bartlett, Washington Post, September 4, 2015

It’s safe to say that virtually all political professionals think Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is doomed. The odds of him winning the Republican nomination are long, and the odds of him winning the general election are nonexistent, they say. The key reason is that Trump’s campaign is based on alienating Latinos, a large and fast-growing voter bloc, by supporting the deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants and building a wall along the border with Mexico to prevent further emigration. If the eventual Republican nominee needs 47 percent of the Latino vote to win the general election–the threshold set by two political scientists in a study for Latino Decisions–what chance does Trump have?

But if Trump could replace Latino votes with those of another large minority group that traditionally votes Democratic, he might have a fighting chance at victory. And even without changing his message, black voters could be that group.

African Americans have long been receptive to the anti-immigrant concepts behind Trump’s campaign. Simply put, the jobs, housing and other opportunities that immigrants take come largely at the expense of blacks who were born in the United States.


Black newspapers opined in favor of the Immigration Act of 1924, which enacted the first major restrictions on immigration. In an editorial, the Chicago Defender said: “With the average American white man’s turn of mind the white foreign laborer is given preference over the black home product. When the former is not available the latter gets an inning.” The labor leader A. Philip Randolph went even further, saying the Immigration Act wasn’t enough. “Instead of reducing immigration to 2 percent of the 1890 quota, we favor reducing it to nothing,” he said. By 1993, poet Toni Morrison put the issue succinctly in an essay for Time, saying, “Whatever the ethnicity or nationality of the immigrant, his nemesis is understood to be African American.”

Economically, the division is beyond doubt, and Trump could exploit it if he chose to. According to the Census Bureau, the incomes of black households have long been considerably lower than the incomes of Hispanic households. In 2013, the former had a median income of $34,598, while the latter had a median income of $40,963, a difference of nearly 20 percent.

There is little doubt that immigration depresses the employment and wages of black men. A 2010 study by the economists George Borjas, Jeffrey Grogger and Gordon Hanson found that a 10 percent immigration-induced increase in the labor supply reduced African Americans’ wages by 2.5 percent and the employment rate among blacks by 5.9 percentage points.


As a consequence, public opinion among a majority of working-class and middle-class African Americans supports a more restrictive immigration policy, according to a 2012 study by political scientist Tatishe Nteta. Gallup found that 49 percent of African Americans think immigration worsens the availability of job opportunities for them, compared with 34 percent of non-Hispanic whites. A New American Media poll found that 51 percent of African Americans believe that Latinos are taking away jobs, housing and political power from the black community. In a 2012 Pew Research Center poll, 61 percent of blacks agreed that “the growing number of newcomers threaten traditional American values,” vs. 48 percent of whites.


Tellingly, the only Republican to take an anti-immigrant message directly to the black community in recent years received a positive reception. Tom Tancredo, then a U.S. Representative from Colorado, addressed the NAACP’s national convention in 2007, the only member of the GOP to do so. During his speech, he received warm applause when he quoted a black woman who told him, “I always knew something would bring us together. Who knew it would be our common language?”

Would African American voters pick Trump just because of his views on immigration? Clearly, Republicans will need better outreach to the black community than they have had in decades. And for the moment, Trump’s high unfavorable ratings among black respondents–more than eight in 10 disapprove–are indistinguishable from his numbers among Hispanics, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll. But immigration gives Trump entrée to African Americans with an issue that will resonate with many and at least give him a hearing. An aggressive effort by him to court black voters could change the political dynamics and hit Democrats where they least expect it.