A panel of Latinx professors, journalists, and political organizers gathered at Columbia Teachers College on Tuesday to discuss the previously-anticipated role of Latinx voters as a firewall for the Democratic party and unexpected Latinx support for President Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
Since the election, the Latinx community has been blamed by those on both sides of the political spectrum for its outcome. Democrats have argued that Latinx voters did not turn out to vote in high enough numbers for Clinton, while some Republicans, including President Trump, falsely state that millions of undocumented immigrants voted for Clinton and lost Trump the popular vote.
Frances Negrón-Muntaner, a professor of English at Columbia University, led the panel, which featured Cristina Beltrán, associate professor of social and cultural analysis and director of Latino studies at New York University, Maria Hinojosa, anchor and executive producer of “Latino USA” for NPR, Ali Valenzuela, assistant professor of politics and Latino studies at Princeton University, and Daniel Contreras, former political organizer for Bernie Sanders in Oregon and New Mexico.
Throughout the discussion, panelists grappled with understanding reports of high Latinx support for President Trump. According to exit polls, 29 percent of Latinx voters chose Donald Trump—a larger percentage of the community than those who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. Valenzuela, in particular, was deeply skeptical of the accuracy of this polling and argued that sampling bias led polls to skew conservative and facilitated a false media narrative.
“The exit polls rarely, if ever, conduct interviews in Spanish. The exit polls rarely, if ever, conduct interviews in majority Hispanic neighborhoods. They rarely, if ever, conduct sufficient interviews of Hispanic voters,” Valenzuela said. “[The exit polls] that oversample assimilated Latinos are overestimating Latino support for the Republican candidate.”
Valenzuela noted a poll released by Latino Decisions concluding that only 18 percent of Latinx voters chose Trump, a significant difference, and fewer than the 27 percent that voted for Romney in 2012.
Beltrán pointed out the unique difficulties of mobilizing the Latinx vote. According to Beltrán, a disproportionate number of Latinx voters are uneducated, young, low income, or first-time voters—demographics that each exhibithave low voter turnout, independent of race and ethnicity. Furthermore, Beltrán argued that Latinx voters are disempowered by the Electoral College, as Latinos are concentrated in non-battleground states.
“Trump may have galvanized a lot of Latinos. But, his awfulness did not magically overcome the larger demographic and structural challenges faced by Latinos seeking political empowerment through the electoral process,” Beltrán said. “The rapid growth of the Latino population produces this contradictory symbolic space in which Latinos are understood as both political necessity and the site of political peril.”
The discussion concluded with a call for the audience to mobilize a Latinx coalition through grassroots activism and participation in the political process. Hinojosa ended the panel by asking the audience to have these political conversations and affirm their presence in political spaces.
“Don’t give up hope. Meditate and approach from love,” Hinojosa said. “Because we are not going anywhere.”