Donald Trump may chalk up his scuffle with Univision anchor Jorge Ramos Tuesday night in Iowa as yet another win in taking on the media. When Ramos insisted on asking questions about Trump's immigration proposal, Trump declared “Go back to Univision,” and security escorted Ramos out of the room. But for Latino voters, it's much more meaningful. Jorge Ramos is not just another news anchor—he's the most trusted source of information among Latinos, according to Latino Decisions polling during the 2012 election.
Donald Trump's confrontation with Ramos is the latest example in a long list of actions that have antagonized Latino voters. In June, when he announced his intention to run in the GOP presidential primary, he suggested that the real threat to America was Mexicans crossing the border. Mexico is sending people with "lots of problems,” people who were “bringing drugs,” and people who were “rapists,” he said.
Since then, Trump has continued to make immigration issues a centerpiece of his campaign. He has proposed building a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border and somehow making Mexico pay for it. He says he will deport all undocumented immigrants, including U.S.-born children, whom he plans to deport with their parents: “We’re going to keep the families together, but they have to go.” He also wants to deny U.S. citizenship to U.S.-born children.
It is precisely this anti-immigrant rhetoric that has resonated so profoundly among certain pockets of GOP voters and keeps Trump as their frontrunner. As Christopher Parker, associate professor of political science at the University of Washington, has written, “people who are highly identified with the Tea Party are anxious about Latino immigrants taking over ‘their’ country.”
Trump is clearly not popular among Latinos. A recent Gallup poll tracking the GOP candidates reports a net favorable score of negative 51. (The next lowest are Ted Cruz and Rick Perry at negative seven. Jeb Bush is the highest, with 11.) Attacking Ramos likely won't help.
In a new academic research paper, I find that Spanish-language media plays an important role in socializing and mobilizing Latinos to vote, and that exposure to Spanish TV news significantly increases interest in voting and campaign involvement. (The opposite is true for Latinos who are frequent consumers of English news media.) The findings show that being a frequent consumer of Spanish-language news more than doubles a person's likelihood of voting. We call this the “Jorge Ramos effect.”
For many Latinos, Spanish news media represents both a trusted source of information, as well as a socializing vehicle. Ramos is leading this effort, asking tough questions to politicians about the issues most important to the Latino community. In addition, he participates in an extensive public service announcement campaign called Ya es hora imploring Latinos to register and vote to make their voices heard.
According to the research findings, Spanish-language political news clearly mobilized Latino voters in 2012. The “Jorge Ramos effect” was present not only in heightened interest in voting, but also in direct engagement with campaigns. Research also finds a direct connection between Mitt Romney’s comments that undocumented immigrants should practice self-deportation and the record Latino voter turnout for Barack Obama in 2012. And let’s not forget the failed U.S. Senate campaign in Nevada by Republican Sharon Angle, whose campaign depicted Latino immigrants as gang members and criminals. A post-election analysis proved she won less than 10% of the Latino vote.
Running on anti-immigrant rhetoric and fighting with Ramos is unlikely to go without consequences for Mr. Trump. It may just spark Latino involvement in politics even earlier than expected in 2016.