A large minority of Hispanic voters support Trump populism

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The Economist
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This looks catastrophic for the left

When Donald Trump descended his escalator six years ago and inveighed against Mexican rapist immigrants, it was assumed that Hispanic voters would take offence. But a short hop across the Hudson river, in heavily Hispanic Passaic City, Angel Castillo loved what he heard. “Trump kept it real,” recalled the 43-year-old immigrant, over a cup of strong Dominican coffee in his small family restaurant, El Primito. “He didn’t say all Latinos are rapists. He said a lot of those coming over the border are rapists and drug-dealers and he’s right.”

Though a registered Democrat, Mr Castillo resolved to vote Republican thenceforth. Many of his relatives (a few of whom are illegal immigrants) were horrified: “People said you’re crazy, you’re voting for a racist.” Yet his wife, mother, brother, sister and teenage daughter followed his lead. This puts them in the most intriguing, hotly studied and potentially decisive cohort in American politics: Hispanic Trump voters.

Their emergence as a major electoral force was the big surprise of last year’s election. It saw a huge turnout by Hispanic voters, helping Joe Biden to victory in Arizona and Nevada. Yet it also featured a pronounced Hispanic tilt to Mr Trump. Initially thought to have been a localised phenomenon—which cost Mr Biden Florida and any hope of victory in Texas—it turned out to be nationwide. With around 38% of the Hispanic vote, Mr Trump won a higher share than any recent Republican presidential candidate apart from George W. Bush, a pro-immigrant Texan, in 2004. And last week’s elections in New Jersey—including Governor Phil Murphy’s brush with political death—suggests the shift may endure.

Passaic City, a decaying factory-town where seven in ten voters are Latino, helps illustrate it. In 2016 Mr Trump won 22% of the vote there, almost the same as Mitt Romney had. Four years of relentless immigrant-bashing and race-baiting later, he bagged 36%. Mr Murphy’s Republican challenger, Jack Ciattarelli, appears to have held on to that gain; when vote-counting finishes, a third of the commissioners of Passaic County could be Republican.

The overarching explanation for this development is suggested by the many alternative cuisines, Mexican, Colombian, Peruvian, Venezuelan, Puerto Rican, available within a few steps of El Primito. Hispanics are incomparably more diverse than the earlier waves of immigrants—Irish, Italian, Polish, Hungarian—who turned Passaic from a 19th-century fur trading-post into an industrial hub. They also lack the labour unions that bound those hordes into the Democratic fold. The assumption that Mr Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric would make Hispanics recoil in unison took too little note of their differences. While some have done so—especially young, college-educated Hispanics—the extreme polarisation of the Trump era has pushed others to the right.

Ronald Reagan quipped that hard-working, religious, communism-hating Hispanics were Republican even if they didn’t know it.

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