October 4, 2002
Hispanic Voters Hard to Profile, Poll Finds
Oct. 3 Though Hispanic voters identify more with Democrats than they do
with Republicans, they have little party loyalty and defy easy
categorization on issues like taxes and abortion, according to a new poll
by the Pew Hispanic Center.
This ideological ambivalence, coupled with a surging population of
younger voters, makes Hispanics an attractive voting bloc that could swing
from one party to another, the survey showed.
So far, the opportunity to capitalize on their growing numbers has
largely been squandered. While more and more Hispanics have registered to
vote, fewer have actually cast ballots.
Hispanics have always been a hard group to characterize politically
because their opinions typically vary by nationality, the region where
they live and whether they were born in or outside the United States.
"There is a mixture of beliefs and attitudes that are very hard to
pigeonhole," said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, which
conducted the survey along with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
"Latinos are not necessarily a Democratic lock."
More than half the Latino Republicans questioned said they would rather
pay higher taxes for more government services than pay lower taxes for
fewer services, while 17 percent of non-Hispanic white Republicans stated
On social issues, Latino Democrats expressed more conservative values
than their non-Latino white counterparts. Thirty-four percent of Hispanic
Democrats said they believed that divorce was unacceptable, compared with
13 percent for non-Hispanic white Democrats. Twelve percent of Latino
Democrats said they thought abortion should be legal in all cases,
compared with 26 percent of non-Latino white Democrats who expressed the
"Latinos born outside the United States, as a group, have particularly
more intense and socially conservative views than those born within the
country," said Mollyann Brodie, vice president and director of public
opinion and media research for the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The poll of 1,329 registered Hispanic voters, 838 non-Hispanic whites
and 136 non-Hispanic African-Americans was conducted by telephone from
April to June and has a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points. It is
part of a broader survey of Latinos in the United States that will be
released in December.
Among those interviewed, 45 percent said they were United States
citizens who were registered to vote. Of those, nearly half called
themselves Democrats, one-fifth said they were Republicans and another
fifth labeled themselves independent.
Democrats, for the most part, have been more aggressive in reaching out
to Hispanic voters.
"Republicans don't have an institutional network to get Hispanics out
to vote," said Rodolfo de la Garza, a political science professor at
Columbia University who conducted a separate study of Latino voting
patterns for the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, a research organization on
His analysis, of Harris County, Tex., and Los Angeles from 1992 to
1998, found that despite a spike in the number of Hispanics registered to
vote, their turnout was usually poor.
But President Bush, who received 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in
Texas, has helped narrow the gap between the two parties. Though only 27
percent of Latinos in the survey said they had more confidence in
Republicans than Democrats on economic issues, the numbers changed sharply
when Latinos were asked to choose between Democrats in Congress and
President Bush. Forty-two percent said they had more confidence in Mr.
They also demonstrated party ambivalence in other ways. When asked
which of the two major political parties is more concerned about
Hispanics, 45 percent said the Democrats, but 40 percent said they sensed
no difference between the two sides.
Education was cited as the most important issue by 58 percent of
registered Latino voters, and it was especially important to Latinos who
were born outside the United States. The economy was the next priority,
followed by health care and Medicare.
Immigration was also an important topic. About half of the Hispanics
surveyed said they thought too many immigrants were living in the United
States. But about three-fourths said the United States should continue
allowing the same number of Latin Americans into the country as it has
been, or should allow more.
About half of Latino voters said they get their news on television in
English. Twenty-seven percent said they watch English and Spanish news,
and 19 percent tune in to Spanish newscasts most of the time.