WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton is having trouble exciting large segments of Hispanic voters despite her Republican opponent’s history of offensive statements about Mexican immigrants.
Support for Clinton lags among Hispanic millennials, a demographic key to her victory who account for nearly half of the record 27.3 million Hispanics eligible to vote in November, as well as Hispanic men, according to a new study released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.
Just 48 percent of Hispanic millennials said they support Clinton, compared to 66 percent of older voters, Pew found in its latest poll of the Hispanic electorate.
And voters under 35 years old who do support her are doing so unenthusiastically. Among Hispanic millennials backing Clinton, 64 percent described their support more as a vote against Donald Trump than a vote for her.
“We want to see a more forceful attack against inequality in this country,” said Juan Cuba, the 31-year-old director of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party who had voted for Bernie Sanders during the Florida primary but now supports Clinton. “At the end of the day millennials see the car crash that is the Donald Trump campaign, and the things that he is offering will set us back even further.”
Trump draws even fewer Hispanic millennials, just 15 percent. A quarter of Hispanic millennials said they preferred a third-party candidate.
Trump launched his campaign by referring to Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers. He won the Republican nomination with promises of mass deportations and a huge border wall. When he claimed that a federal judge could not be fair in a civil fraud case because of his Mexican heritage, many in his own party denounced his comments as racist.
But Latino voters do not hold uniform views about immigration, let alone other issues they rank as priorities such as education, the economy and health care.
Jody Agius Vallejo, a sociologist at the University of Southern California who studies immigrant integration and inequality, said many Latino millennials view Clinton as inauthentic in her appeal to their generation because she’s been part of the establishment for so long.
“It is difficult for them to see their issues represented in Clinton’s middle-of-the-road policy approach and corporate ties,” Vallejo said.
Many were turned off by her campaign’s misstep during the primary when it published on its website a list of “7 things Hillary Clinton has in common with your abuela.” The list drew an immediate social media backlash and accusations of pandering, prompting the Twitter hashtag #NotMyAbuela.
Clinton is also struggling with Hispanic men, of whom 45 percent said they would vote for her compared to 70 percent of Hispanic women. (A quarter of Hispanic men support Trump, about the same proportion that support third-party candidates.)
A similar split between men and women is reflected in other national as well as swing state polls of Hispanic voters, as well as the American electorate as a whole.
Some Latino leaders and political strategists say they expect the gulf to narrow in coming weeks given the explosive video of Trump bragging about forcibly grabbing women by their genitals and kissing them.
“This guy is a payaso and Hispanics are all beginning to see that,” said Javier Palomarez, president of the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, using the Spanish word for “clown.” The organization is supporting Clinton, its first endorsement of a presidential general election candidate in the chamber’s 38-year history.
Palomarez believes that the Hispanic community — including men and millennials — will in November “come to the rescue and put [Trump] back in his tower, where he belongs.”
Henry Munoz, national finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said the gender gap is driven predominantly by the excitement Latinas have for Clinton, who many refer to as “La Hillary.”
“I’m depending upon the emotional attachment between Latinas and Hillary but I’m not discounting men,” Munoz said. “We will come, but we will just take a little longer.”
While Clinton is winning the Hispanic vote overall — drawing 58 percent compared to Trump’s 19 percent — a smaller proportion say they’re certain to turn out to the polls than in 2012 when they helped Barack Obama win a second term in the White House.
Hispanic millennials posted the sharpest decline, with 62 percent saying they are “absolutely certain” to vote compared to 74 percent in 2012.
Clinton needs the support of minority communities that enthusiastically backed Obama to turn out on Election Day, especially in swing states like Florida whose 29 electoral votes are key to her path to victory.
“They can’t rely on ‘Trump’s a bad guy’ to be the motivator to get Hispanic voters to turn out. It has to be ‘Hillary is going to do x, y, and z,’” said Anthony Williams, special projects director at Bendixen & Amandi International, a Miami firm that conducts polls on the Hispanic electorate.
Trump has fared better among Hispanic voters in Florida than in the southwest, where his comments targeting Mexican immigrants have made it more difficult for him to break through, Williams said.
Voters who primarily speak Spanish are more likely to choose Clinton over Trump — if they turn out to vote, Williams said.
“Time is a finite resource. There is very little room for persuasion at this point among Hispanics. It’s almost entirely about turnout now,” Williams said. The Clinton campaign must ensure that “they don’t leave Spanish-dominant Hispanics on the table because it’s literally theirs for the taking.”
The campaign is running a series of bilingual television, radio, and digital ads including one that features young people registering to vote for the first time as a response to Trump’s rhetoric against Mexican immigrants.
The campaign has also cut ads about Trump fat-shaming a former Miss Universe from Venezuela and his 1998 violation of the Cuban embargo.
Clinton is also heavily courting Puerto Rican voters in Florida, given the tens of thousands migrating off the island each year to escape its financial crisis. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and can vote immediately.
Many have moved to the Orlando area, a swing region where the Clinton campaign has tried to gin up enthusiasm with Puerto Rican-style political “caravanas” of trucks and cars blaring salsa and reggaeton music through neighborhood streets as supporters wave campaign signs and Puerto Rican flags.
“We have mass migration coinciding with a presidential election in a very big swing state,” said Amilcar Antonio Barreto, a Northeastern University political science professor. “ She is going out of her way to appeal to this community in hopes of making up for not being able to appeal to millennials, whether Latino or non-Latino.”
Tracy Jan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TracyJan.