The trouble for Clinton was that only about two-thirds of that turnout was for her. According to exit polls, 65 percent of Latino voters backed Clinton, while 29 percent backed Trump—a number that’s in line with that of past Republican candidates. Trump’s level of support was two percentage points higher than what Mitt Romney saw in 2012 and two shy of John McCain’s 31 percent in 2008. Those pro-Trump results are remarkable in light of his remarks about Latinos. After all, Trump launched his presidential campaign calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, and has promised to double down on combatting illegal immigration. Clinton, meanwhile, fell short of Obama’s 71 percent support in 2012, coming closer instead to Obama’s support among Latinos in 2008, which stood at 67 percent.
It should be noted that these numbers are early, and that a greater picture of turnout and candidate support will emerge in the coming weeks. Surveying Latinos using exit polls can be challenging for a number of reasons, so those numbers aren’t entirely set in stone. Still, an early look at Clinton’s performance seems to demonstrate that even robust turnout of Clinton-supporting Latinos didn’t always help her win.
Take Florida—a state where Latinos make up 24 percent of the population and account for roughly 18 percent of the state’s eligible voters. Exit polls there showed a majority of Latinos backed Clinton over Trump. Her lead among Latinos in the exit polls surpassed Obama’s in the state in 2012. Support for the Democratic nominee in this slice of the electorate was evident in Latino-heavy counties. In Miami-Dade County, where Latinos account for 56 percent of registered voters, Clinton performed far better than Trump did, receiving more than 280,000 votes. But despite Clinton’s performance in the southeastern part of the state, it was not enough for her to win it, delivering a blow to the Clinton campaign days after an unprecedented showing from Latinos in early-voting turnout.
Meanwhile, in Nevada, where 28 percent of the population is Latino, Clinton secured a victory. Clinton’s team poured resources into the states in hopes of mobilizing voters. A surge of Latinos turned out during early voting, to Clinton’s ultimate benefit. According to exit polls, 60 percent of Latinos in the state backed Clinton, compared with Trump’s 29 percent. The story in Nevada among Latinos doesn’t seem all that different from Florida—only in Florida, the Latino vote wasn’t enough to help shield Clinton from a loss.
In states with high numbers of Latinos, the anticipated, overwhelming support for Clinton appeared to bear out. Yet Trump’s support nationally among Latinos was higher than expected. Matt Barreto, the co-founder and managing partner of the polling firm Latino Decisions, suggested some of that contrast can be attributed to flaws in exit polls: “The exit polls—and this is not to criticize them, they will admit this—are completely guessing in the moment, on the fly, on what the composition of the electorate is. … But they don’t know, and nobody will know until we look at the election data, what the turnout is.”