RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
As we look back on the 2016 presidential election, we now know there were some major assumptions about voting trends that turned out to be wrong. And some of them might offer some lessons for the future. To figure that out, we are joined now by NPR's Asma Khalid. Hi, Asma.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.
MARTIN: So this is something you've been looking at. All year long you were reporting on stories that kind of live in this intersection of demographics and politics. And so you've been examining some of the misperceptions we may have had. And I want to start with one about education because there was this assumption, that the more education a voter had, the more likely they were to vote for Hillary Clinton. What really happened?
KHALID: Well, Rachel, throughout the presidential campaign, you're right. There was this constant undercurrent that - you know, this belief that Donald Trump was exclusively appealing to blue-collar voters, primarily the white working class. And then there was this sort of belief that as a side effect, analysts thought he was alienating more highly educated voters. And, as you said, the polls consistently showed Hillary Clinton with a lead among white college-educated voters.
And that was thought to be a shift because this is a group that historically votes Republican. But ultimately, on Election Day, Donald Trump managed to eke out an edge with these white college graduates. And, Rachel, I think what we can learn here is that party loyalty is a powerful force. Many of these people have historically voted Republican. And they did so this November, just like they always do.
MARTIN: All right. Let's talk about another misperception, this one about immigration. I heard a lot during the campaign that the rhetoric that Donald Trump used when talking about some immigrant groups was going to push, especially conservative-leaning Hispanics, out of the GOP. But that didn't pan out either.
KHALID: No, Rachel. I mean, I think maybe the big lesson from 2016 is that a solid number of Latinos are conservative. And they will consistently vote for Republicans. That's not what Tony Suarez thought. He's Puerto Rican and a Republican. Suarez and I have spoken probably about three times in the last year. And he's always been worried about Trump's candidacy and what it would mean for his fellow Hispanics. The last time we spoke, Suarez was in his car, and he repeated this bold, ominous prediction.
TONY SUAREZ: I thought that the rhetoric coming out of Donald Trump was so toxic that it would eventually turn off the Hispanic community as Barry Goldwater turned off the African-American community.
KHALID: Barry Goldwater's opposition to civil rights in the 1960s is one reason black voters make up the base of the Democratic Party today. Suarez told me that on election night, he was at a party for a local Republican candidate.
SUAREZ: And I was surrounded by a lot of Trump Hispanics. It certainly was more than I would've thought. I was surprised to see it.
KHALID: Suarez voted for Hillary Clinton, but a lot of other GOP Latinos did not. He miscalculated, but so did a lot of analysts. The main election night exit poll shows Trump performed roughly on par with Mitt Romney, capturing 28 percent of the Latino vote. There are analysts who disagree with this number. The polling firm Latino Decisions says it's closer to 18 percent. But regardless of which stat you think is right, the truth is a substantial number of Hispanics voted for Trump. Meet pastor Mario Bramnick.
MARIO BRAMNICK: For most Latinos, not only Hispanic evangelicals, family values are important. Social values are important.
KHALID: He's an evangelical minister who was a Trump surrogate.
BRAMNICK: There was this real skew towards religious liberties in the last eight years of the Obama administration. And Mr. Trump said, you guys are losing your right to speak. And he said, if I become president, you will have your right to speak like everybody else.
KHALID: Trump did make an effort to reach out to Latino conservative Christians. Both of his sons visited Hispanic congregations that final Sunday before the election, and it paid off.
JOSEPH ADORNO: I ended up voting for Donald Trump.
KHALID: That's Joseph Adorno. He's a millennial, 23 years old and an engineer in Florida. And for him, a vote for Trump was essentially a vote for party loyalty and Christian values.
ADORNO: I guess it's more about the Republican Party, in a way. You know, the person that was going to be elected would nominate a lot of people in power, like the judges. And I felt that he would nominate more conservative judges.
KHALID: For other Latinos, it wasn't just about religion. It was the way Trump spoke about veterans in particular.
ORLANDO DIAZ: My name is Orlando Diaz. I have 12 years of service in the Army.
KHALID: Diaz says Trump was a man of strength, and he liked that.
DIAZ: One of the things that President-elect Trump has mentioned is that he wants to increase the size of the Army, which I think is necessary during the situations that are going on right now in the world.
KHALID: And for other folks, like Flaminio Guerrero from Georgia, a vote for Trump was a vote for the economy. I met Guerrero through a Facebook group called Latinos/Hispanics for Donald Trump.
FLAMINIO GUERRERO: Trump - I like the fact that he's not an insider. You know, he comes from the outside. He comes from the business world. He knows how to negotiate.
KHALID: Guerrero is similar to other Trump-supporting Latinos I spoke with. He's well aware of Trump's comments about Mexican immigrants and a border wall. He just doesn't take it personally.
GUERRERO: I understand Mexicans when they get offended. But at the same time, when I first came to America - every time, someone asked me where are you from? And if I would say Colombia, they immediately - they would think of drugs.
KHALID: Guerrero says it used to offend him. But he says the truth is a lot of drugs were coming through Colombia.
GUERRERO: I was ashamed. But at the same time, I could not call these people racist because they're just facing a reality. And so that's when we have to be more pragmatic than emotional.
KHALID: Guerrero is an immigrant, but Hispanics are hugely diverse and don't have the same immigrant experience. And so for some, Trump's immigration rhetoric was never an issue. Take Julian Camacho from California.
JULIAN CAMACHO: It didn't trouble me at all because, you know, he was talking about people who had come across the U.S. illegally.
KHALID: Camacho's family has roots in Mexico, but they've lived in the United States for generations. And it wasn't only Camacho who thought this. I heard similar things from Puerto Ricans who told me, well, clearly Trump wasn't talking about all Hispanics. And besides, Camacho says, his vote wasn't about immigration.
CAMACHO: I voted for Donald Trump based on his positions on the trade deals ending the North American Free Trade Agreement.
KHALID: Camacho kind of liked Bernie Sanders in the primaries. In fact, he's always considered himself a Democrat.
CAMACHO: I've never voted Republican. The economy, for me, is disastrous. I am unemployed for six months now.
KHALID: So, Rachel, you know, all these stories help explain how Donald Trump did better than expected with Hispanics.
MARTIN: Yeah. Although, at the same time, you have to acknowledge Trump still lost an overwhelming majority of Latinos, right?
KHALID: That's true. And, you know, there could be this other alternative lesson. And I've been thinking about that, that maybe the real lesson is this - that the demographics of this country are changing. Latinos are becoming a larger share of the population. But for now, it is still possible to win less than a third of the Latino vote and still win the presidency.
MARTIN: NPR's Asma Khalid. Asma, thank you so much.
KHALID: You're welcome.
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