OPINION

Opinion: Trump is counting on Latinos' voting apathy, and that may fire back

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 05:  Voters go to the polls for Super Tuesday primaries in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Boyle Heights on February 5, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. Latinos are an increasingly important factor in California where they are expected to account for 14 percent of the vote and tend to favor presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) over rival Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). At 44 million, Latinos make up15 percent of the US population, the nation's largest minority group according to the latest Census Bureau estimates.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 05: Voters go to the polls for Super Tuesday primaries in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Boyle Heights on February 5, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. Latinos are an increasingly important factor in California where they are expected to account for 14 percent of the vote and tend to favor presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) over rival Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). At 44 million, Latinos make up15 percent of the US population, the nation's largest minority group according to the latest Census Bureau estimates. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)  (2008 Getty Images)

Recent polls of Latino voters are forecasting a blowout by Hillary Clinton tomorrow. According to the latest Washington Post-Univision survey, 67 percent of Hispanics intend to vote for Hillary Clinton on Tuesday against only 19 percent for Donald Trump. 

Latino Decisions predicts even better numbers for Clinton: 79 percent versus 18 percent for the Republican candidate. In some states like Arizona and Nevada, Clinton beats Trump by around 50 percent among Hispanic voters.

Some analysts speculate that Trump's tirades may galvanize as many as 4 million more Hispanics to vote this year than in 2012. Tomorrow will tell.

- Jose W. Fernandez

If these polling figures hold, Trump's support among Latinos will have reached record lows for a Republican candidate. Mitt Romney asked Latinos to self-deport and was rewarded with 27 percent of their ballots. By contrast, 44 percent of Latino voters backed George W. Bush in 2004. In the aftermath of Romney's defeat, experts concluded that future Republicans running for President would need at least 40 percent of the Hispanic vote to stand a chance. 

Conventional wisdom, then, assures us that the recent poll numbers bode well for Clinton.

In 2016, however, Hispanic preference figures may not matter. What's more, they obfuscate the fundamental issue regarding Latino voting. On November 8th, the key question for Latinos will be turnout.

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The history of Latino voting participation in presidential elections is dismal. In 2012, 62 percent of all registered voters in the U.S. went to the polls, but only 48 percent of eligible Latinos did.  In Colorado, Latinos lagged behind the overall turnout by 18 percent. This was not an aberration, for Hispanic voting numbers in previous elections were similarly feeble. 

By contrast, for the first time in U.S. history, African-Americans in 2012 voted at a higher clip than whites. No wonder Trump had little fear of retribution when he chose to kick off his campaign by calling Mexicans "rapists" and "criminals," promising to build a wall that would be paid for by workers' remittances from the United States if the Mexican government refused, and labeling a Mexican-American judge unfit to rule on fraud charges against Trump University. 

In his businessman's mind, the profits to be gained by demeaning Latinos far outweighed losing the votes of a group with a history of staying home on Election Day. Trump's insults in this election were the price Latinos paid for our voting apathy.

Reports of early voting in battleground states suggest that we may have learned our lesson. With a week to go, Hispanics in Florida had already cast more early votes than in the early 2012 cycle. Their share of early voting in the Sunshine State has increased to 15 percent versus 10 percent four years ago. In Clark County, where Las Vegas is located and Hispanics comprise a substantial part of the electorate, early balloting has pushed the Democrats' lead over Republicans above the numbers for Obama at the same time in 2012. 

And in El Paso County, Texas, which is 81 percent Latino, early voting is running twice as high as in the last election. Some analysts speculate that Trump's tirades may galvanize as many as 4 million more Hispanics to vote this year than in 2012. Tomorrow will tell.

This election has been trying for Latinos. Our place in this great nation has been questioned and policies that would help our families strive towards the American Dream have been rejected.  Whether we respond at the ballot box on Nov. 8th will determine if future candidates choose to demonize Hispanics instead of working to earn our votes. Come Tuesday, Vota o Calla.

Jose W. Fernandez practices law in New York. From 2009 to 2013 he served as Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs.

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