Trump Is Bragging About His Latino Support In Nevada. Here’s Why Numbers Aren’t What They Seem.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, is flanked by his two sons, Donald Trump Jr., left, and Eric, while speaking at a caucus night rally Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Las Vegas. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JAE C. HONG

You might not think Donald Trump would be particularly popular among Latinos. After all, he’s made his desire to deport undocumented immigrants and literally wall off Mexico centerpieces of his controversial presidential campaign.

But entrance polling conducted before Tuesday night’s Nevada GOP caucus indicates Trump actually won a plurality of last night’s Latino vote. CNN’s polling found Trump winning 44 percent of the Latino vote, compared to 29 percent for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and 18 percent for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Trump highlighted the surprising triumph during his victory speech.

“You know what I’m really happy about? Number one with Hispanics,” Trump said. “I’m really happy about that.”

CNN political pundit David Chalian called that result “the wow number of the night.”

“It is just unbelievable,” he added.

At a Monday night Trump rally, cattle rancher Ralph Morales told ThinkProgress he’s supporting Trump because he’s the candidate who can best move American politics to the right.

“I believe our country has unfortunately gone down a socialistic path, and I want a candidate who can pull back a lot of the government oversight, and return the liberties that have been taken away from us,” Morales said. “Do I believe this man [Trump] will put us on the right path? I hope so.”

Do I believe this man [Trump] will put us on the right path? I hope so

In a press release distributed by Latino Decisions, David Damore, associate professor of Political Science at UNLV, argues too much is being made of Trump’s popularity among Nevada Latinos.

For one, Damore points out that the majority of Nevada Latinos are Democrats. According to polling provided by Latino Decisions, only 16 percent of Latino voters in Nevada are Republicans. So even assuming the entrance poll is correct, the number of Latinos who actually voted for Trump last night is under 10 percent of those who can be expected to cast ballots in November.

Secondly, Damore argues that Nevada Latinos continue to move away from the Republican Party in general. He cites the following passage from a study put together by Brookings Mountain West:

[B]ased upon analysis of survey data from the 2012 election it appears that within Nevada’s Latino community there are few if any sub‐populations where the Republican Party has much traction. Much of the Republican Party’s struggles with Latino voters in Nevada stems from the inconsistency between the GOP’s policy agenda and the preferences of most Latino voters in the state and the perceived insensitivity of the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, towards the state’s Latino community.

Polling conducted by Latino Decisions indicates Trump’s harsh rhetoric toward undocumented immigrants has caused Latinos in battleground states to look upon the Republican Party more unfavorably, but a Trump supporter ThinkProgress spoke with in Nevada said he supports Trump’s hardline stance.

High school senior Angelo Gomez says last night was the very first time he voted.

“The state made it legal for illegal immigrants to get licenses,” he said. “There’s a lot of people I’ve talked to who said they’ve been in car accidents with illegal immigrants. The problem occurs when they don’t have any insurance. It’s a huge problem in the state right now.”

If we’re to be a nation of laws, you have to have secure borders

Gomez’s concern about immigration was echoed by Morales.

“My father came to this country from Mexico, but that was 40 years ago, and he was much different from the illegal aliens you have now,” he said. “If we’re to be a nation of laws, you have to have secure borders.”

Comments like those suggest Trump can rail against undocumented immigrants while still appealing to some Latinos. Can he do so to the extent necessary to win a general election? That remains to be seen, but the Nevada caucuses demonstrate Trump is at least doing enough right now to get him that far.

Gomez, for one, is a Latino who supports Trump quietly.

“My high school is really liberal, so I don’t talk about politics too much,” he said. “They usually get mad at me since I’m with Trump.”

Alice Ollstein contributed reporting.