Translating Trump: When He Talks Immigration, What Latino Voters Hear

In recent weeks media reporting has been rife with speculation that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was “pivoting” away from the harsh immigration policies and anti-immigrant language that have been the hallmark of his presidential campaign. Yet, as last week’s speech in Arizona—delivered hours after a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto—revealed, there is no kinder and gentler Donald Trump lurking under that comb over. Instead, Trump doubled-down on the rhetoric and policies that have him poised to receive the least amount of support from Latino voters of any Republican presidential candidate in modern American political history.


While the fact that so many analysts and pundits are still willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt is a topic for another day, one group of voters who were not fooled by the “Trump is pivoting” narrative were Latinos. In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s visit to Mexico and his speech in Arizona, America’s Voice and Latino Decisions conducted a poll of 500 Latino registered voters to assess what these votes hear when Trump talks immigration [to access the toplines click here and for the crosstabs click here]. The online poll was conducted between September 2nd and September 6th in English and Spanish and has a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points. In what follows, I highlight some of the poll’s key findings.


In the Arizona speech, Trump stated that if he was elected president the only way that undocumented immigrants living in the United States could ever obtain legal status is for them to “return home and apply for reentry like everybody else.” However, just 21% of respondents agree that Trump is interested in creating a fair and practical immigration system. In contrast, 79% think that Trump’s real goal is to deport immigrants and refuse to let them back in.


The poll also presented respondents with some of Trump’s immigration tweets (“We must stop the crime and killing machine that is illegal immigration. Rampant problems will only get worse. Take back our country!” and “I love the Mexican people, but Mexico is not our friend. They’re killing us at the border and they’re killing us on jobs and trade. FIGHT!”), followed by a prompt asking respondents if Trump really means “make America great again” or “make American hate again.” Among those answering the question, 27% chose “make America great again,” while 73% opted for “make American hate again.”


In response to a question asking about Trump’s visit to Mexico where he called Mexican President Peña Nieto “a friend” and said that he wants to work to make both Mexico and the United States stronger, only 18% think that the trip was a serious effort to develop a good relationship with Mexico and its leaders. In contrast, 82% of respondents saw the Mexico trip as a campaign stunt. More generally, the same share of respondents (82%) feel that Trump’s campaign talk and policy views make them fear for the future of their families and the country. Just 18% think that Trump has the best interests of their family and country in mind.


In sum, perceptions of Donald Trump among Latino voters are well solidified and any efforts in the closing weeks of the campaign to reposition the Republican nominee on immigration are likely to be viewed as nothing more than a campaign stunt. Little wonder then that only 17% of Latino voters indicated in the poll that they will support the Republican nominee. Instead, the vast majority of Latino voters (72%) will be casting their votes for Hillary Clinton this November.

Dr. David Damore is a Senior Analyst at Latino Decisions. He is Professor of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a Brookings Mountian West Fellow. Damore has been cited as an expert on Latino voting by the Las Vegas Sun and L.A. Times, and identified by FiveThirtyEight as a lead Nevada expert.