Latinos tend to vote for Democrats and support the party's platform on many political, economic, and immigration issues, but a clear majority do not adhere to its positions on moral, religious, and church-state issues.
Indeed, according to the Hispanic Churches in American Public Life (HCAPL) study, most Latinos support traditionally conservative Republican issues like prayer in school, school vouchers, and the charitable choice initiatives.
HCAPL project manager Gaston Espinosa says in the study's summary (Spanish) that most Latino evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Roman Catholic charismatics are opposed to abortion and homosexuality but otherwise identify more strongly with less conservative political platforms than do white evangelicals.
"Latinos are more likely to vote along the lines of African Americans than Anglo-Americans, even when this means going against the grain of their own larger Anglo-American theological tradition," Espinosa states.
The Pew Charitable Trusts-funded study found that 49 percent of Latinos identified as Democrat and 14 percent as Republican in the fall of 2000. A surprising 37 percent of Latinos identified themselves as politically independent. With more than 8 million Hispanic voters estimated in the United States, those independents represent the potential for volatile swings in the Latino vote.
Still, many Latinos support moral agenda items more associated with Republicans than with Democrats.
Overall, fully 70 percent of Latinos support prayer in school (69 percent Catholic and 80 percent "Protestant and other Christian"). The study found 60 percent of Latinos support school vouchers, vs. 66 percent of white evangelicals, 54 percent of white mainline Protestants, 64 percent of blacks, 63 percent of white Catholics, and 51 percent of Jews.
The HCAPL report says 58 percent of Hispanics support the teaching of both creation and evolution in public schools, and 81percent support the faith-based charitable choice initiative.
Latino support for vouchers lies between that of blacks and whites. On average, Latino Protestants support school prayer and other church-state issues at a higher rate than their Catholic counterparts (80 percent Protestant and 69 percent Catholic).
"While this represents a major cleavage with most mainline Protestant traditions, it is not unlike the black electorate, who support some of these measures in similar numbers," the study states.
And as with the black electorate, support of these measures did not translate into support of Republican candidates.
The HCAPL survey, conducted before the 2000 presidential election, indicated 49 percent of Latinos planned to vote for Al Gore. Apparently, most of the 17 percent of Latinos that were undecided opted for Gore: he received 62 percent of the Hispanic vote. Bush ultimately received 35 percent of the Hispanic vote, while 30 percent of the survey respondents said they would vote for him.
Gore was the preferred presidential candidate among 42 percent of Latino evangelicals, while 29 percent said they planned to vote for Bush. Hispanic Pentecostals, however, planned to split their votes between the two candidates at 35 percent each.
"It is interesting to note that the Latino Pentecostal vote projected for Bush was identical to what later exit polls indicated that Latinos nationwide gave him on election night—35 percent," Espinosa says.
More Latino Catholics expected to choose Gore over Bush (48 percent vs. 26 percent). Likewise, 51 percent of mainline Protestants planned to vote for Gore vs. 20 percent for Bush.
Predictably, Bush fared better among the conservative Cuban-American community, where he won 70 percent of voters vs. 19 percent for Bush. Gore took the Mexican (61 percent) and Puerto Rican (64 percent) vote.
Other election studies indicate that Latino Catholics gave Gore 76 percent of their votes (vs. 24 percent for Bush). That compared with Latino Protestants who gave him 67 percent (vs. 33 percent for Bush). These other studies, according to the HCAPL report, show a contrast of the Hispanic vote with that of black Protestants, who gave Gore 96 percent of their votes; "less [religiously] observant white evangelicals," who gave Gore only 45 percent (vs. 55 percent for Bush); and "less [religiously] observant mainline Protestants," 43 percent of whom voted for Gore (57 percent for Bush).
"Again, Latino support for Gore was located between their black and white counterparts," Espinosa states. "What do these findings suggest? The Latino vote is more volatile, independent, and issue- and personality-driven than ideologically driven."
Evangelicals and Pentecostals are only slightly less affiliated with the Democratic Party than Latino Catholics and Mainline Protestants, according to the study. Among Latino evangelicals, 43 percent are Democrats, 20 percent are Republican, and 32 percent are independent (5 percent self-identified as "something else").
Likewise, 48 percent of Hispanic Pentecostals identified themselves as Democrats, 20 percent as Republican, and 30 percent as independent. Among Hispanic mainline Protestants, 52 percent are Democrats, similar to the 50 percent figure for Hispanic Catholics. Latino Catholics are 13 percent Republican and 33 percent independent).
Espinosa says the HCAPL study was the largest bilingual survey in U.S. history on Latino religion and politics. It included a random-sample telephone survey of 2,310 Latinos across the United States and Puerto Rico (2,060 excluding Puerto Rico, which is not included in the released figures).
Jesse Miranda of Alianza de Ministerios Evangelicos Nacionales (AMEN) and Virgilio Elizondo of the Mexican American Cultural Center directed the study. The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute conducted the telephone surveys from August 21 to October 31, 2000.
Jeff M. Sellers is an associate editor of Christianity Today.
Copyright © 2003 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
See last week's first article in Jeff M. Sellers' reporting on the Hispanic Churches in American Public Life study: "Despite Protestant Growth, Hispanic Catholicism Holds Steady in U.S."
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