clock menu more-arrow no yes

Democrats have more work to do with Latinos than you think

People line up to register for a caucus in the heavily Latino neighborhood of East Las Vegas in 2008.
People line up to register for a caucus in the heavily Latino neighborhood of East Las Vegas in 2008.
(Ryan Anson/AFP/Getty)

There are a lot of Americans who want to see Donald Trump lose badly in November. They think he is an existential threat to a diverse and tolerant America, and they want to see a diverse coalition of voters rise up to smack him down. They want to see him electorally humiliated — made a total loser — by the very people he's disrespected and disregarded.

It would be poetic justice if this happened. It would also be logical: It seems like common sense that when Trump insults people, it motivates them to do whatever they need to do to vote against him.

But it is never a good idea to believe that just because something ought to happen (logically or morally), it is happening. That's especially true when it comes to the 2016 election and Donald Trump.

Just ask the Republican Party how it works out when you assume that someone is so self-evidently bad for America that Americans will rise up of their own accord to stop him.

Democrats and those who support them are already getting complacent. They're already telling themselves that Trump is doing their job for them to get out the vote, especially among Latinos.

And they're ignoring any evidence that that just isn't true.

Don't believe the hype about the "Trump effect" on naturalizations

All spring, the anti-Trump forces have been psyching themselves up by talking about a "surge" of immigrants applying to become US citizens so they can vote against Trump. Most of the evidence they cited was anecdotal, but because naturalization statistics take so long to come out, that made sense — there were no official stats one way or the other, so anecdotes were the only information anyone had.

But as actual statistics have come out, they show that the "surge" isn't much bigger than you'd see in any other presidential election year. Immigrants are more likely to naturalize so they can vote for president, generally, but it doesn't look like they're all that much more interested in voting against Trump.

What I've found disappointing, though, is that even as evidence trickles out that the "Trump effect" isn't all it was cracked up to be, people have turned a blind eye.

Earlier this month, a network of advocacy groups revealed that their big push to get 1 million immigrants to naturalize had resulted, through April, in only 12,781 actual applications. But you wouldn't know it from the coverage of the press call, which trumpeted a "surge" in naturalizations. The Washington Post even talked about a "record number of citizenship applications" — the "record" in question being the number of people who had called the office of one member of Congress asking for help with their applications. My take was decidedly more skeptical.

People are letting their assumptions about what ought to happen — or just their desire to see Trump get his comeuppance — get in the way of looking at what's actually going on. That is never a good thing.

Voter mobilization isn't automatic — and Trump will be too close in the polls for Democrats to leave it to chance

No one is arguing that if fewer than 1 million immigrants become citizens by their voter registration deadlines, Donald Trump will win the White House. But if Trump's opponents keep telling themselves that the "Trump effect" will inevitably bring him down, they'll be in trouble.

Voter mobilization takes work. Period. This is because voters are fickle — especially true for Democratic voters, as my colleague Matt Yglesias pointed out earlier this week:

Rainy days hurt turnout across the board, but they are especially bad for Democrats.

By the same token, while turnout falls across the board in midterms it falls further for Democrats.

Younger people and nonwhites, in particular, seem less connected to the political process and more willing to stay home from the polls.

Obama's relatively narrow reelection in 2012 was driven by his ability to get those fickle voters to come to the polls in a way they didn't in 2010 or 2014.

In presidential elections, Democrats put in a lot of work to get those voters to the polls. Putting effort into voter mobilization doesn't guarantee high voter turnout — as Yglesias points out in his piece, at the end of the day you need to give people a reason to vote, and "the other guy sucks" may or may not be sufficient. But when the effort for voter mobilization isn't there, as it often isn't in midterm years, Democrats barely even have a chance.

Over the past couple of weeks, as the Republican Party has united around Donald Trump, we've seen the polls tighten. By some polls, he's currently tied with Hillary Clinton.

The reaction to this among political junkies has generally been to wonder whether the polls in May mean anything for November, which is certainly a good question to ask. But even if Trump won't stay tied with Clinton for the next five months, the polls have made it very clear that this might not be a blowout election — that it might look a lot closer to the past few presidential elections than people rooting for Trump to get his just deserts might like to think.

Which is to say, like the past few presidential elections, what matters won't just be the margin between the two candidates in polls but the composition of the electorate that shows up to support them.

For Republicans, that means another cycle of wondering just how overwhelmingly they need to win white voters to compensate for their total debilitation with nonwhites. For Democrats, it means a lot of work to get their most fickle voters to the polls — just like they have to do in any other presidential election year.

That won't happen if Trump's opponents are convinced he's already doing their job for them. He's not. If they want to beat him, they will need to put in the work themselves.