A post-Super Tuesday article from the Laredo (Texas) Morning Times is making the rounds on the internet. According to those posting the article, Donald Trump’s primary election victory in Webb County Texas proves that Trump can win Hispanic voters in spite of his immigration policies, which include deportation of all illegal immigrants and a 40-foot tall wall along the Mexican border. Critics have argued that Trump’s proposals, along with rhetoric calling illegal immigrants “criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.” will drive Latino voters to the Democratic Party. Did Trump win the Hispanic vote in Webb County?
Webb County is a west Texas county that includes the border city of Laredo. The county is 95 percent Latino according to the US Census so when Donald Trump won the Republican primary there on March 1, many took it as a sign that warnings about Trump’s harsh immigration rhetoric were off base.
The headline of the Laredo Morning Times on March 2 asked the question, “How did Trump win Webb County?” The article went on to note that Webb County was one of only six in the State of Texas that were won by Trump. The British newspaper, The Guardian, picked up the story with the headline, “Trump dominates in Texas border town where proposed wall would be built.”
The vote in Webb County was close. According to the Morning Times, “Ted Cruz won 1,155 votes in Webb County and Marco Rubio won 1,163, an eight-vote difference ― a true split.” Trump edged out the two Hispanic senators with 1,427 votes leading Webb County Republican Party Chairman Randy Blair to speculate, “I really think the main reason he won in Webb is because the two [candidates] behind him split the Hispanic vote.”
While this theory may be true, the most important aspect of Trump’s victory in Webb County is missing from both the Morning Times and the Guardian. The obvious questions for inquiring minds are what percentage of Republican voters in Webb County were Hispanic and how did Donald Trump and his immigration proposals stack up against Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders?
The first question is unanswerable. Exit polls were not taken for Webb County. The closest we can come is to look at statewide exit polls for Texas from the New York Times. These show that, even though Latinos make up 40 percent of the population of Texas according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, only 10 percent of Republican primary voters were Hispanic. In contrast, 28 percent of voters in the Democratic primary were Hispanic.
If this holds true for Webb County, it would mean that Hispanic voters were drastically underrepresented in the county’s vote for Donald Trump. It would also explode the myth that Webb County Hispanics were rallying behind Donald Trump and his wall.
The answer to the second question can help to answer the first. The Morning Times also published full primary election results for both parties. Comparing Democratic and Republican primary results can help determine how excited Webb County Hispanics are about both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
The Republican primary results were [results for candidates who have withdrawn are not shown]:
|Donald Trump||1,427 votes||34.90 percent|
|Marco Rubio||1,163 votes||28.44 percent|
|Ted Cruz||1,155 votes||28.25 percent|
|John Kasich||61 votes||1.49 percent|
Looking to the Democratic primary, the results were:
|Hillary Clinton||18,559 votes||71.86 percent|
|Bernie Sanders||6,177 votes||23.92 percent|
When the two primary elections are compared, Trump’s miraculous victory among Hispanics evaporates quickly. There were 4,063 Republican votes compared to 25,826 votes for Democrats. To put that into perspective, the Democratic runner-up received more votes than the top three Republican candidates combined. This is not an encouraging sign for Republicans.
Looking at the numbers a little more deeply, we can see that Trump’s share of the total vote was roughly equivalent to the white share of Webb County’s total population. His Webb County victory required Trump to win few, if any, Hispanic votes.
Where some Trump supporters are lauding the Webb County results, they actually show a major weakness that could prevent both Trump and Cruz from beating Hillary Clinton in November. Previous polling has indicated that most Americans favor a pathway to citizenship and oppose deportation of all illegal immigrants. These numbers are even stronger in the Hispanic community. In many of the must-win swing states, Hispanic voters may be the deciding factor. Based on the results so far, it appears that Hispanic swing voters would break heavily for the Democratic candidate.
The Webb County results should not surprising. The southwest corner of Texas is the most Democratic part of the state. Historic election results from 2008 and 2012 show that Webb County voted for Barack Obama in both elections. In fact, the 13 percent of votes garnered by all Republicans is markedly worse than the 22 percent won by Mitt Romney in 2012.
Exit polls were not conducted in Texas in 2012, but Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote nationally. Republicans must improve on this number if they want to win the White House.
While primary voters are not an accurate representation of the general electorate, these numbers should be alarming to Republicans. Hispanic primary voters in a deeply red state have roundly rejected both Republican frontrunners in favor of Hillary Clinton. This should be a wakeup call to the Trump and Cruz campaigns that they need to tone down their anti-immigrant and anti-Mexico rhetoric.
Interestingly, the presence of Marco Rubio, an immigration reform proponent, also did not bring Hispanic voters over to the GOP. There are several possible reasons for this. First, Texas Hispanics are primarily of Mexican descent, where both Cruz and Rubio are of Cuban descent. The two Hispanic Republicans might fare better in other states where the Hispanic population is more diverse. Second, there is the fact that Hispanic primary voters are skewed more to the Democratic Party and its track record of immigration amnesty. In any case, all three Republican candidates have work to do in reaching out to the Hispanic community.
To win the presidency, the Republican candidate must flip the states of Florida, Iowa, Ohio, and Virginia that were won by Obama twice. Many swing voters in these states are Hispanic or naturalized Americans. The Webb County results show that these voters are unlikely to abandon Hillary Clinton and the Democrats for Donald Trump and his wall.