- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 23, 2020

President Trump has overseen the strictest immigration policy of any president in modern political times, and Hispanic community leaders have said that will kill his chances to attract Hispanic voters.

Instead, Mr. Trump enters the home stretch of his reelection campaign poised to keep, and perhaps even increase, his share of the Hispanic vote, according to the latest round of national opinion polls.

Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden is certain to carry the Hispanic vote overall, but Mr. Trump polls anywhere from about a quarter of the Hispanic vote up to 38% in one survey. On average, he hovers in the low 30s.

That would be an improvement over his showing in 2016, when exit polls suggested that he won the vote of 28% of Hispanics who turned out.

Pollsters offer plenty of caveats. The Hispanic numbers are subsamples of larger polls, and the margin of error can be substantial for such a breakout. But the consistency of the numbers suggests that the president’s handling of the coronavirus hasn’t cost him his chance among Hispanic voters.

“President Trump has only gained support with Latino voters since being elected,” said Ali Pardo, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign. “The president has consistently delivered for our community, creating jobs, boosting income, and standing up to socialism and communism.”

At one point this year, Mr. Trump was looking even stronger with the economy soaring and the Hispanic employment rate setting records. The president frequently reminds Hispanic voters of that.

In January and February, before the COVID-19 pandemic, several polls showed Mr. Trump topping 40% approval among Hispanics and flirting with 40% in matchups against potential Democratic opponents. At that time, there was no clear front-runner.

That 40% threshold is an important yardstick. In 2004, President George W. Bush won 40% to 44% of the Hispanic vote — the total remains contested — setting the modern high-water mark for the Republican Party in a presidential election.

Mr. Trump no longer hits Bush-like numbers in polling among Hispanics. Over the past few weeks, his ratings have ranged from 24% in a YouGov/Economist survey to 38% in an Emerson College poll.

Analysts said his handling of the coronavirus is a likely explanation for his slide.

Latino Decisions, a leading pollster with deep ties to Democrats and liberal causes, has released a poll showing that 22% of Hispanics say they trust Mr. Trump on his handling of COVID-19. Nearly three-quarters said Mr. Trump ignored early warning signs of the coronavirus and imperiled the U.S. as a result, the poll found.

“Trump’s handling of the pandemic puts him at an extreme disadvantage,” said Gary Segura, co-founder of Latino Decisions.

James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, said the disapproval is broad.

“Under the circumstances, many don’t like what they see in terms of the pandemic, the economy and government response,” Mr. Henson said. “We’re beginning to pick up more negative sentiment as people pay more attention.”

The relief packages Congress has approved haven’t always penetrated the community. Market Watch reported that only about 20% of Hispanic-owned businesses that applied for the Paycheck Protection Program received funding.

The relief packages pointedly deny stimulus payments to illegal immigrants even if their children are U.S. citizens. The Hispanic community, which makes up most of the that population, feels the economic effects the most.

That is particularly damaging to Mr. Trump in Sun Belt states such as Arizona and Texas, which have been hit hard by COVID-19 and are seemingly in play this year.

“It is more competitive between the parties in Texas now than it has been for more than a decade,” Mr. Henson said.

Latino Decisions said its sampling of Hispanics in Texas found them breaking for Mr. Biden by 66% to 21% — a 45-point advantage. Mr. Biden holds a 34-point advantage with Hispanics in Arizona and a 37-point lead in North Carolina.

Mr. Trump’s best swing state with a sizable Hispanic population is Florida, where Mr. Biden’s lead is just 55% to 41%.

The Trump campaign says the trend is going his way.

They point to Fox News polling, which showed him with 34% support among Hispanics this month, up from 21% in June.

Mr. Henson, who tracks polling in Texas, said surveys heading into an election usually show higher Hispanic support for Republicans than actual numbers on Election Day, suggesting Republicans end up underperforming.

He said part of the reason is errors in sampling Hispanic voters.

“It’s hard to get a good sample of Latino voters, and Latino voter turnout is so low and fluctuates, so it is hard to gauge who is going to show up and vote,” he said.

Latino Decisions found that nearly two-thirds of Hispanic voters had not heard from either campaign or even from civic groups about the election. About 24% said they had been contacted by the Biden team, 14% said they had heard from Trump folks, and 6% said they had heard from civic groups.

Mr. Segura said he expects those engagement numbers to grow in September and October as the campaign reaches the final stages but added that some damage have already may been done.

“Early and frequent contact would produce a much bigger turnout,” he said.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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