GOP share of Latino vote steady under Trump, bolstered by evangelicals and vets

There is a larger bloc of reliable Republican Latinos than many think, as the GOP’s position among Latinos in America has not weakened during the Trump administration — this, despite presidential rhetoric against immigrants and the party’s shift to the right on immigration.

In November’s elections, 32 percent of Latinos voted for Republicans, according to AP VoteCast data. The survey of more than 115,000 midterm voters — including 7,738 Latino voters — was conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.

Other surveys also found roughly one-third of Latinos supporting the GOP. Data from the Pew Research Center and from exit polls suggest that a comparable share, about three in 10 Latino voters, supported Trump in 2016. That tracks the share of Latinos supporting Republicans for the last decade.

The VoteCast data shows that, like white voters, Latinos are split by gender — 61 percent of men voted Democratic in November, while 69 percent of women did. And while Republican-leaning Latinos can be found everywhere in the country, two groups stand out as especially likely to back the GOP — evangelicals and veterans.

Evangelicals comprised about one-quarter of Latino voters, and veterans were 13 percent. Both groups were about evenly split between the two parties. Mike Madrid, a Republican strategist in California, said those groups have reliably provided the GOP with many Latino votes for years.

“They stick and they do not go away,” Madrid said. Much as with Trump’s own core white voters, attacks on the president and other Republicans for being anti-immigrant “just make them dig in even more,” he added.

The Rev. Sam Rodriguez of Sacramento, California, one of Trump’s spiritual advisers, said evangelical Latinos have a clear reason to vote Republican. “Why do 30 percent of Latinos still support Trump? Because of the Democratic Party’s obsession with abortion,” Rodriguez said. “It’s life and religious liberty, and everything else follows.”

Pedro Gonzalez has faith in Donald Trump and his party.

The 55-year-old Colombian immigrant is a pastor at an evangelical church in suburban Denver. Initially turned off by Trump in 2016, he’s been heartened by the president’s steps to protect religious groups and appoint judges who oppose abortion rights. More important, Gonzalez sees Trump’s presidency as part of a divine plan.

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Gonzalez said of the president. “He was put there.”

Some conservative Latinos say their political leanings make them feel more like a minority than their ethnicity does. Irina Vilariño, 43, a Miami restaurateur and Cuban immigrant, said she had presidential bumper stickers for Sen. John McCain, Mitt Romney and Trump scratched off her car. She said she never suffered from discrimination growing up in a predominantly white south Florida community, “but I remember during the McCain campaign being discriminated against because I supported him.”

The 2018 election was good to Democrats, but Florida disappointed them. They couldn’t convince enough of the state’s often right-leaning Cuban-American voters to support Sen. Bill Nelson, who was ousted by the GOP’s Spanish-speaking Gov. Rick Scott, or rally behind Democrats’ gubernatorial candidate, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who lost to Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis.

Still, in the rest of the country, there were signs that pleased Democrats. Latinos voted at high rates in an election that saw record-setting turnout among all demographic groups. Latinos normally have among the worst midterm turnout rates, and while official data won’t be available for months, a number of formerly-Republican congressional districts in California and New Mexico flipped Democratic.

That’s why Republicans shouldn’t take comfort in being able to consistently win about one-third of Latinos, said Madrid. They’re still losing two-thirds of an electorate that’s being goaded into the voting booth by Trump.

“That is contributing to the death spiral of the Republican Party — even if it holds at 30 percent,” Madrid said. “That’s a route to death, it’s just a slower one.”

Gonzalez, the pastor, sees the trend in Colorado. He distributed literature across Spanish-speaking congregations supporting Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton, who was crushed by Democratic Rep. Jared Polis as the GOP lost every race for statewide office.

Gonzalez understands the anger among some Latinos at the GOP and Trump for what he says is a false impression of a solely hardline immigration stance. “In the community that is not informed, that is following the rhetoric of the media, there’s a view that Donald Trump is a bad guy,” Gonzalez said. Evangelicals “understand that he’s there to defend values.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.