Can the Hispanic Side of Hillary’s ‘Firewall’ Hold?

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USA - Politics - Hillary Clinton Campaigns in Texas
Hillary Clinton is trying to duplicate her strong support among Hispanics in 2008. Photo: Bob Daemmrich/© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

Earlier today my colleague Eric Levitz explored some new polling — especially a battery of Public Policy Polling surveys of 12 states that vote between March 1 and March 8 — that indicates Hillary Clinton’s “firewall” of states coming up after this weekend’s Nevada Caucuses is holding up thanks to strong support from African-Americans.   

But while African-American support levels for Clinton — and Bernie Sanders’s efforts to reduce them — have been a constant source of conversation in Democratic circles, an important variable as well is the fight for Hispanic voters. Clinton actually beat Barack Obama by roughly a two-to-one margin among Hispanic voters in the 2008 primaries, and has been endorsed by a broad array of Hispanic elected officials. But hanging on to this vote can be complicated. Certainly wrapping oneself in the Obama mantle is a mixed asset; the president’s always had iffy job-approval ratings in this demographic, thanks in part to ambivalence about the administration’s deportation policies. And the hard times suffered by many Hispanic families during and after the Great Recession has created an opening for Sanders’s econo-centric message. 

You get the sense listening to Team Bernie that they believe they are making big gains with Hispanic voters in Nevada, where they hope to pull an upset. We’ll see soon enough. But although the states voting in early March are not, with the obvious exception of Texas, big Hispanic voting areas, the PPP polls do provide some hints of how the two candidates are faring — and it’s largely good news for Clinton. 

With the exception of Sanders’s own Vermont (where Bernie heavily leads every demographic) and Michigan (where the two are tied), Clinton is leading Sanders in the March 1-8 states among Hispanic voters by margins ranging from 6 (Oklahoma) to 78 (Mississippi) points. In Texas, where it matters most, Clinton leads 54/38. In Bernie friendly Massachusetts, Clinton leads among the 6 percent of the primary electorate that is Hispanic by 1o points (53/43). In Georgia, whose rapidly growing Hispanic population is now 5 percent of the Democratic primary vote, Clinton leads among them by better than two-to-one (60/28). 

There are, of course, significant variations in how Hispanic voters behave politically based on region, religion, country-of-origin, and generation. We’ll see these come into play in Florida, which votes on March 15. But before then we’ll have a decent idea of whether Clinton has retained much of her hold on Hispanic voters generally. So far there’s no particular reason to believe she has not. And the more she can supplement overwhelming support among African-Americans with decent if not overwhelming support from other minority voters, the more Sanders will have to depend on the white-hot intensity of the Bern continuing among paler liberals.