LOS ANGELES — There’s talk of protecting the country from the “Invisible Enemy” by temporarily blocking people from receiving green cards. New footage of the construction of the southern border wall is available to stream online from a government website. If there was any doubt, this week made it clear: President Trump is making his anti-immigration message a cornerstone of his re-election campaign.
And yet Latino voters are not, so far, indicating they will turn out in decisive numbers for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is counting on their support to win key swing states including Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania. New polling indicates that 45 percent of Latinos approve of the president’s handling of the coronavirus.
While Mr. Biden remains the choice of the majority of registered Hispanic voters, at 59 percent, Mr. Trump is the choice of 22 percent, according to a poll released Friday by Latino Decisions, a Los Angeles-based Democratic polling firm. Though the polling was conducted before his most recent statements and actions on immigration and the coronavirus, it is the latest evidence that Mr. Trump maintains steady support from a significant slice of Latino voters. Several polls of Latinos in battleground states have consistently shown Mr. Trump receiving slightly more than 20 percent of the votes.
The poll also shows that enthusiasm for Mr. Biden seems to be slipping — he was favored by 67 percent of registered Latino voters in February.
“Even as Trump is continuing this immigrant bashing, these voters are not blaming him for what is going on in the country right now — they are giving him the benefit of the doubt,” said Matt Barreto, who runs the polling firm. “There is an enthusiasm deficit — people are losing their jobs, losing their health care, losing their house, and they are not hearing how the Democratic Party is trying to solve that.”
Latinos are expected to be the largest nonwhite ethnic voting bloc this fall, and Democrats have made it clear that they believe record turnout from the group will lead to significant victories in states that are crucial to recapturing the White House. Before the pandemic, many political operatives said they were seeing unprecedented levels of engagement and excitement from Latinos, in part driven by anger over what they view as the Trump administration’s damaging messages and policy on immigration.
But many Latino operatives have repeatedly warned Democrats not to take these voters for granted. Presuming that anger with the Trump administration will easily translate into a victory for Mr. Biden is a mistake, they say. The concern, they argue, is an enthusiasm gap — less that Latinos will turn to Mr. Trump, but that they won’t vote at all. In a poll conducted in late February, 73 percent of Latino voters said they were “almost certain” to vote in November. Two months later, that number has dropped to 60 percent.
“I don’t want anybody to take the Latino community of this country for granted, and we tend to do that,” said Henry Muñoz, a former Democratic Party official who helped start Somos, a network of health professionals in New York City, and who paid for the poll. “Latinos don’t vote because they don’t believe that anyone in office has their back. They don’t think that if they vote or if they organize, that anything that happens will impact their family.”
Many Latino leaders have urged Mr. Biden’s campaign to learn from Senator Bernie Sanders. His primary campaign attracted widespread enthusiasm from Latino voters, particularly among young voters and in the West, where he won the California and Nevada nominating contests. The Sanders campaign invested early and heavily in attracting Latino voters, drawing on activists with longstanding ties to their local communities.
“Sanders is the only presidential campaign that ever put their money where their mouth is and cleaned everybody else’s clock — that’s a lesson for everyone,” said Tony Cárdenas, a Democratic congressman from Los Angeles who has backed Mr. Biden and serves as the chairman of the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “No campaign should ever think that just because somebody else has scapegoated the Latino community, that’s it — that in and of itself is not going to get it done.”
Biden campaign officials have assured Mr. Cárdenas and others that they will aggressively expand Latino outreach.
Despite Mr. Trump’s relentless focus on immigration, the issue was never seen as a top priority for Democrats during the primary. Though the candidates roundly criticized the administration’s policies on family separations, few clearly articulated how they would handle vexing immigration policy questions as president. Immigration activists complained and interrupted several debates to draw more attention to the issue, and criticized Mr. Biden for his role in the Obama administration, which deported more than 2.5 million immigrants.
Latino political leaders have long urged candidates to think beyond immigration when trying to appeal to Latino voters. And the pandemic has brought to the forefront many issues that have long been a focus for Latinos — inequality, access to health care, jobs and education.
Marisa Franco, the executive director of Mijente, a Latino activist group that endorsed Mr. Sanders in the primary and has yet to officially back Mr. Biden, said she wanted to see the campaign do more to attract grass-roots support.
“What the Sanders campaign really did was bring people in, who then went back into the neighborhoods where they are from, where they are trusted, and made a pitch that is much more compelling,” Ms. Franco said. “I think that’s what the Biden campaign hasn’t done and that’s something they will have to really grapple with.”
The Trump campaign has frequently said that it plans to reach out to Latino voters, particularly in more conservative parts of the country. Even small inroads among those voters could help the campaign win states like Texas and Florida.
“Many Latinos support President Trump because they understand that his policies actually help families like theirs,” said Ali Pardo, a spokeswoman for the campaign. “The president doesn’t make empty promises — he supercharged America’s economy once, and he will do it again.”
Of course, no campaign in modern history has taken place amid a pandemic. Political organizers are trying to figure out how to adapt as people struggle with their own basic needs. And at a time when Mr. Trump is holding daily televised briefings, Mr. Biden is still figuring out how to break through to voters broadly.
“Right now, President Trump is failing to give Americans the leadership they demand to solve the dual public health and economic crises that we are facing — which are hitting communities of color especially hard — and this poll shows that Latinos are paying attention,” said Cristóbal Alex, a senior adviser on the Biden campaign. “As we approach November, we will continue, and expand, our aggressive outreach in the Latino community to turn that vision into votes.”
Mr. Barreto said of the president, “Latino communities are being devastated right now, and Democrats have the chance to annihilate him on this.”
He added, “I think the worry for the Democrats is the perception that he appears to be managing is going unchallenged, and the longer that happens, the more damaging it is.”