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Why it Matters that National Exit Polls (Again) Missed Latinos

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Latinos Delivered, Yet Erroneous Exit Polls Unfairly Diminish Their Impact

Latino voters showed up in record numbers and delivered record margins on behalf of Democratic candidates in 2016. Per the Latino Decisions election eve poll, Latinos backed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a 78-19% margin.

However, if you rely on the national exit poll numbers regarding Latino voters, you’d come to a very different conclusion: that Clinton’s margin was just 65-29% and that Latino turnout declined in many key states compared to 2012.

The exit polls would have you believe that Donald Trump spent 15 months demonizing the Latino community and then grew the Republican vote share among Latinos compared to 2012; that the Latinos’ share of the electorate declined compared to four years ago in states such as Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada; that nearly one-third of Latinos in Nevada voted for Trump – despite the Democrats’ success up and down the ballot in NV in 2016; and that the same exit polls that, by their own admission, are “not designed to yield very reliable estimates of the characteristics of small, geographically clustered demographic groups,” are more accurate than a massive sample poll designed solely to accurately gauge Latino voters.

The bottom line is that the national exit polls, once again, got it wrong when it comes to Latino voters (see here for background on why exit polls do not accurately capture Latinos).

The numbers defy common sense and the facts on the ground. This is not a mere academic exercise or a story simply about methodology. At a time when the Latino and immigrant communities are vulnerable and fearful given the election of Donald Trump, an accurate assessment of the community’s performance in the 2016 elections and its electoral power is of huge consequence. Selling the Latino vote short, as the national exit polls do, essentially diminishes – even disenfranchises – Latino voters at a moment of maximum peril.

A number of key observers and experts are highlighting the controversy over Latino exit polling and its implications. As Politico highlighted:

After starting his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists, promoting a ‘deportation force,’ and appealing to white nationalists, had Trump actually done better among Latinos than Mitt Romney? Nope, contended a coalition of Latino groups this week. They’re placing their faith in a poll conducted the night before the election by Latino Decisions, a firm that specializes in studying Hispanic Americans that found 18 percent of Latinos voting for Trump. That’s a “record low” for a GOP presidential candidate, said National Council of La Raza president Janet Murguía at a press conference with other Hispanic leaders on Thursday. “It is an insult to us as Latinos to keep hearing the media ignoring the empirical data that was presented by Latino Decisions.”

Other key observers highlighting the Latino exit poll controversy include Stephen Nuno in NBC NewsMiriam Jordan in the Wall Street Journal, and Ed Pilkington in The Guardian. Tom Bonior, CEO of the TargetSmart political data firm tweeted, “One more point — if exits get turnout shares wrong (they do), then they also get the candidate support wrong. Which leaves little utility.” Additional skepticism about the Latino findings in the exit polls come from voices such as pollster Harrison Hickman and political media such as Chris Hayes, Jamelle Bouie, and Ezra Klein, who writes: “Exit polls are, if anything, worse than normal polls — and the normal polls missed this election. Moreover, exit polls are particularly bad at measuring the Hispanic vote, and understanding racial and demographic trends is of particular importance this year.” And Taeku Lee of Asian American Decisions highlights that the exit polls also missed the mark regarding AAPI voters.

Election forecaster Nate Silver appeared on Trevor Noah’s show last night and said of problematic Latino polling: “A lot of voters, a lot of polls don’t have Spanish language interviewers. And they’re different than English-speaking Hispanics. And by the way, people talk about the Midwest where Clinton underperformed her polls. There were also states like California and New Mexico where she over-performed her polls.”

So what to make of Latinos’ real performance and influence in 2016? Matt Barreto and Gabriel Sanchez of Latino Decisions write in the Washington Post that detailed precinct analysis of heavily Latino counties is confirming heavy Latino turnout for Clinton:

“Starr County, Tex., is 96 percent Latino; there, Trump won just 19 percent of all votes cast. In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, the heavily Cuban precinct 419 — which had cast only 28 percent votes for Obama — jumped to 49 percent for Clinton, a 21 point increase. In the heavily Puerto Rican precinct 210 in Kissimee, Fla., Clinton defeated Trump 80 percent to 17 percent. In New Mexico’s Las Cruces, precinct 80 cast only 9 percent of its votes for Trump. And in Milwaukee District 12, precinct 233, which is 77 percent Latino, the vote was 88 percent for Clinton to 9 percent for Trump. There are literally thousands of similar results across majority-Latino precincts in the country. The national exit polls apparently did not conduct any interviews in these Latino enclaves.”

Latino Decisions’ Gabriel Sanchez notes in Vox.com of Latinos’ role in 2016 contests:

“…without Latinos, Hillary Clinton might not have won the popular vote, nor come so close to winning the election outright. Furthermore, Latino voters were consequential in US Senate races in Nevada and Colorado. I want to make two emphatic points. First, Latino turnout was up significantly in 2016 compared with 2012. Second, the 79 percent vote for Secretary Clinton represents a profound rejection of Trumpism and its toxic message to Latinos and immigrants.”

Political columnist Michael Cohen writes as part of his Boston Globe post-election analysis:

“The exit polling on Arizona is a bit hard to take seriously, since it shows her dramatically over-performing among white voters, compared to 2012, and underperforming among Hispanic voters. In general, most of the exit polling on Latino voters is highly suspect. Latino Decisions, a polling firm that did pre-election exit polling in both English and Spanish, had Clinton winning Hispanics by an 79-18 percent margin. Nonetheless, Clinton was clearly more competitive in Arizona’s Maricopa County, and that probably can’t be explained by Hispanic turnout alone. Arizona could be a true battleground as soon as 2020. One other source of hope for Democrats is that in places like Arizona, Florida, Texas, Virginia and perhaps Nevada there does appear to have been an Hispanic surge for Democrats.”

As Mindy Romero writes in the Los Angeles Times:

“Without the Latino vote, we might have seen an electoral landslide for Trump. Latinos helped seal Democratic victories in Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia and here in California. They also provided Democrats unprecedented support in Arizona and Texas. And Latinos helped elect several new members of Congress, including the first Latina in the U.S. Senate, Catherine Cortez Masto, from Nevada … The National Exit Pool poll estimates the president-elect received 29% of the Latino vote. But this number is disputed as the poll’s methodology is recognized as inadequate for Latinos and other subgroups. The Election Eve Poll by Latino Decisions found Trump with only 18% of Latino voters … Trump’s win may have cemented a critical problem for the Republicans. The GOP brand is now linked to his aggressive, racialized discourse about people of color and immigration.”

Click here to view Matt Barreto’s slide presentation and here for more information on what constitutes a good versus bad Latino poll 

Click here for national and state toplines and crosstabs for the Latino Decisions election eve poll