AIF Blog

7 Questions with Matt Barreto

Jun 07, 2016

Matt Barreto is co-founder of the research and polling firm Latino Decisions and a professor of political science and Chicano studies at UCLA. In 2015, the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign hired Barreto to run polling and focus groups on Latino voters. He has overseen multistate election-eve polls, battleground tracking polls, and message-testing research and has briefed the White House and US Senate and congressional committees.

Barreto will speak as part of The Choice 2016 track at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

The Huffington Post has called you “the pollster that has his finger on the pulse of the Latino electorate.” How is the Latino electorate shaping up ahead of the 2016 presidential election?

There are two key trends in the Latino community that have major implications for the 2016 presidential election. First, the registered voter population is growing faster than anticipated and second, interest in the primary election has been strong and sustained. Taken together, this suggests we have the possibility of a record high Latino vote, perhaps even higher than what a straight-line linear projection estimates. I say possibly though, because there needs to be investment in the Latino vote for the record turnout to materialize. As compared to the rest of the electorate, Latinos have the highest share of first time voters because 18 and 19-year-olds and newly naturalized citizens are voting in their first elections. Such voters, with less established records of vote history, tend to receive a smaller amount of attention by campaigns and get-out-the-vote drives. However, there is extensive political science research that finds when Latinos are targeted for voter mobilization drives they turn out to vote at equivalent rates to Whites and Blacks. Even among new voters and lower propensity voters, the research suggests voter outreach drives are quite successful. 

Why are Latino voters more interested in the 2016 election?

It’s true that what we have seen from the primary election season so far is Latinos are more interested than ever before. In a recent national survey of Latino registered voters by Latino Decisions and America’s Voice, 48% said they are more enthusiastic about voting in 2016 than in 2012, and 2012 was already the record for Latino turnout. On the one hand, Latino voters have had a very strong and negative reaction to the various statements and policy positions laid out during the Republican primaries. Latinos and immigrants were singled out as part of the problem in America by Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and many more of the GOP candidates. As a result, Latinos began paying more attention to politics, to the presidential election, and to what the candidates were saying about our communities. On the other hand, Democratic candidates were doing extensive outreach to Latino voters in areas where they played a key role in deciding primary contests -- states like Nevada, Florida, Colorado, Texas, Illinois, Arizona, and California. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders actively campaigned to win Latino votes, and the DNC (Democratic National Committee) sponsored a town hall and debate specifically focused on Latino voters. The result of all of this is that Latinos are paying close attention to the election and what the candidates are saying.

You were tapped by the Hillary Clinton campaign to run polling and focus groups for Latino voters. What’s your strategy and how successful has that work been?

When Gary Segura and I started Latino Decisions we had two goals: to poll Latinos using a rigorous and accurate social science approach and to bring cultural competence and a deep understanding of the Latino community to political polling. In the years since, we have never wavered from those two principles. As a result, Latino Decisions is producing the most accurate and high quality public opinion data of Latino voters. We took the same approach to our consulting work for the Clinton campaign, to try and provide the most accurate read on where Latino voters stand, and how to best engage and connect. Everyone we have worked with inside the campaign is committed to doing the best they can to understand and reach out to the Latino community. That has been really exciting to see. We hope that we can help find the best pathways to mobilize and energize Latino voters in November, and I’m confident we are on the right track.

A recent poll from Latino Decisions shows 79 percent of Latino voters rated presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump very unfavorably. What must Trump do to repair his image among this group of voters?

Overall his unfavorable rating was at 87% in that LD poll. And we’ve seen that same finding replicated by many other national polls of Latinos from the Washington Post-Univision poll, to the Florida International University poll, to the monthly pooled Gallup data. Poll after poll has shown very clear evidence that Latino voters have a very low opinion of Donald Trump. There is no doubt in my mind that he will do much worse than even Mitt Romney’s dismal showing in 2012. From his offensive comments about Mexico sending to the US immigrants who are rapists and criminals, to his truly insulting policy to deport every undocumented immigrant and their US-born children through wide scale “deportation forces,” to his ridiculous #TacoBowl tweet on Cinco de Mayo, Latino voters have soundly rejected the Trump campaign. Rather than trying to repair his image, Trump seems to be doubling down on his anti-Latino efforts and drawing large crowds of Latino protestors in places like Chicago, Albuquerque and Anaheim.

Has Trump’s rhetoric during his campaign caused long-term damage to the Republican Party name among Latino voters?

Right now it is definitely looking that way. An April 2016 Latino Decisions/America’s Voice poll found Trump has negatively impacted the GOP brand with Latino voters. When asked if the Republican Party truly cares about Latinos or ignores Latinos, or is hostile, 73% of Latino voters nationwide said the GOP doesn’t care too much about Latinos, or is outright hostile toward Latinos. Just 14% said the Republican Party truly cares. When asked how the Republican Party has changed in recent years, 42% said the Republican Party today is more hostile toward Latinos. Finally, the poll asked point blank, “do Donald Trump’s views on immigrants or immigration make you more, or less likely to vote for the Republican Party this November?” Seventy-eight percent of Latinos said less likely compared to just 9% who said more likely.

How have you seen Latino voting behavior change since you began Latino Decisions in 2007?

Well first, there’s just a whole lot more of us! In the 2008 presidential election the Census estimated there were 19.5 million eligible Latino voters. In 2016 that is likely to be 27.3 million. That’s almost 8 million more eligible voters in just 8 years! And what’s exciting is we are now having discussions about the Latino vote in states beyond Colorado, Nevada, and Florida. The vote is expanding and becoming relevant in many more states, like Virginia, North Carolina, and Ohio. The second trend is increased unity among Latino voters, likely the result of divisive politics over immigration. This started in 2006 with strong opposition to HR 4437, the anti-immigrant House Bill. Millions of Latinos took to the streets to protest and demonstrate against that bill, and in favor of fair and just comprehensive immigration reform. Following that, we saw a big increase in Latino unity in response to the racial profiling legislation in Arizona, SB1070. Around the country, Latinos responded by calling for an end to that legislation. From there, strong support emerged for the DREAMer movement. Incredible young people took a stand for their rights, and ultimately it was their convincing case that prompted President Obama to issue the executive order known as DACA, which stopped the deportation of DREAMers. In 2014 he signed the executive order protecting the parents of US-born children from deportation, known as DAPA. Polling found that upwards of 90% of Latino voters supported these moves by President Obama. 

According to the U.S. Census, the 2016 electorate will be the most racially and ethnically diverse in US history. From your perspective, how will the changing face of America change politics in Washington?

Politics needs to be a reflection of the entire American public. Democracy works better when everyone feels that they have representatives from their community -- representatives who are trying to represent their interest -- in elected office. And that is slowly changing as America gets more racially and ethnically diverse. As more racial and ethnic minorities run for office and win, they will bring new perspectives, new backgrounds, and new ideas to the political arena. There’s a reason that 50 of the largest businesses in America, as well as the U.S. Military, have called for more diversity in universities. They argue “that a workforce trained in a diverse environment is critical to success.” In the same way, if our political institutions, state legislatures, and Congress are more diverse, all Americans should have more confidence that our political system is actually representing them. Just as Lincoln called for a “government of the people.”