Trump's Mass Political Migration 2.0?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because polls are starting to point to a startling reality: that Trump is gaining with minority voters, not losing them.
By Nick Fouriezos
The 2016 president election was such a shock in part because pollsters didn’t account for a sudden, stark political migration — of working-class, non-college-educated Democrats to a Republican Party helmed by the billionaire Donald Trump. Four years later, Trump is once again behind in the polls. But if another political migration is afoot, it’s not based on blue- vs. white-collar dynamics. No, it’s in another, perhaps even more surprising potential shift — of a portion of minority voters leaving the Democrats to tout the Republican banner.
That may seem unlikely, given Trump’s reputation for racist comments and nativist politics. Yet the polls are starting to paint a picture that’s hard to ignore: one in which Trump has made statistically significant gains with Black, Asian and Latino voters since being elected president.
On Tuesday, Biden was shown to be up 54 to 30 percent over Trump with Asian American voters, according to the 2020 Asian American survey. That’s a significant advantage. However, it’s just about half the advantage Hillary Clinton had four years ago, when she beat Trump 69 to 25 percent among that demographic. With 15 percent of those voters still undecided, Trump will gain even more support on Election Day — likely earning him over a third of Asian Americans after just getting a quarter of them in 2016.
“He’s eating into the people who said they would vote for some other candidate,” says Karthick Ramakrishnan, founder and director of AAPI Data, which helped conduct the survey, noting that third-party candidates aren’t getting nearly as much traction this time around.
That narrowing of the margins with Asian Americans has been happening with Black and Hispanic voters for months now, a mounting worry for Democrats if not a pressing one as Biden still has remained atop national polls. For instance, Trump’s share with Black voters has increased from 2016 as he has aggressively courted them by touting historically low unemployment rates and added funds for historically Black colleges. While Trump earned somewhere between 7 to 10 percent of Black voters in 2016, his share has expanded in 2020 polls — from a floor of 10 percent in most polls to some surveys showing as high as 24 percent approval.
Meanwhile, Biden has been leaking Latino voters since becoming the Democratic nominee. Two polls in June showed his support hovering around 60 percent, a dip from the 66 percent who backed Clinton and 72 percent who last voted for Obama. “We kind of have an unwritten rule of thumb as Democrats when it comes to the Latino electorate: You really need to win 65 percent,” Moe Vela, a former Biden senior adviser, told OZY at the time. More recently, an NBC/Marist poll had Trump beating Biden with Hispanic voters in Florida by a 50-46 margin … echoing results from other potential swing states like Georgia and Texas, where the Latino vote is tight and still up for grabs with many undecided voters.
Those results overall suggest that Trump has made significant inroads with voters of color across the spectrum. If those gains are marginal, a few percentage points, perhaps it will be a drop in the bucket of a larger electoral loss. But if they are bigger and Trump wins — say with 20 percent of the Black vote, 40 percent of Latinos and 30 percent of Asian American voters — then Trump may have succeeded in reversing long-standing American political demographics once again.
There are number of reasons to suspect a shift is occurring, despite Trump’s continued racial rhetoric and exclusionary politics. Both Hispanic and Asian American voters view the economy as their most important voting issue far above immigration, and Republicans are still perceived as doing better on that issue (Black voters list race and policing as their top priorities, perhaps not a surprise given the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement). And as the Democratic Party becomes the party of white-collar intellectuals, and the Republican Party scoops up more working-class, non-college-educated voters, it could be that Trump is starting to collect more minority voters by default — given that people of color (although not Asian Americans) are more likely to work in blue-collar jobs and not have attended college.
If that’s the case, class-based realities are driving migration to Trump, rather than race-based ones. Particularly among newer minority Americans, those who more recently immigrated to the country, his message resonates — multiple surveys have shown that the recently naturalized are more patriotic and are likely to back sitting presidents. “Among first-generation immigrants, they are highly nationalistic,” says Scott Tranter, a GOP strategist and founder of the data firm 0ptimus Analytics, although he admits long-term gains may not last. “I don’t know to the extent it will solidify.”
Trump has made explicit overtures to the Indian American community, both visiting India and hosting Prime Minister Nahendra Modi at a rally in Houston. He has also supported immigration reforms that would favor Indians, who currently face green card backlogs of as long as 151 years (interestingly, Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, of Indian descent, co-sponsored a Senate bill to also address those delays). Trump has seen an increase with Indian voters supporting him, from just 16 percent in 2016 to 28 percent this September. And he’s also seen growing backing from Korean (18 to 26 percent) and Vietnamese (34 to 48 percent) voters. “The power of the incumbency explains some of the shift,” Ramakrishnan says, adding that “the president is able to prioritize what issues will be highlighted.”
It’s worth noting that specific demographic group changes have smaller sample sizes and, thus, higher margins of error. Plus, not all demographics appear to have shifted for Trump — Chinese support dipped from 24 percent in 2016 to just 20 percent now, despite the efforts of online activists to buoy his candidacy through WeChat and other social media platforms. It “remains to be seen” whether his improvement with minority voters “is something that’s temporary, just for this year, or whether four years from now it will disappear,” Ramakrishnan says.
Still, the fact that Trump is making gains at all is a trend to track ahead of a November election that may be closer than experts are predicting — even as our own OZY/0ptimus model gives Biden an 81 percent chance of winning at the moment, mostly because of his improved performance with seniors and white working-class voters. A lot can happen, particularly with a large vote-by-mail election that Trump is already working to discredit.
If Trump does succeed in winning over large swaths of minority voters, he will have restored the Republican Party to the days of George W. Bush, who won 44 percent of Hispanics and Asian American voters and believed the GOP could become the “big tent” party that Ronald Reagan envisioned.
- Nick Fouriezos, OZY Author Contact Nick Fouriezos