Biweekly Public Opinion Roundup: Latinos, Politics and the Elections

As an emerging demographic group in the United States, and as a growing percentage of the electorate, the political concerns of Latinos – and trends in their voting behavior – need to be well understood and acknowledged by policymakers and elected officials. Historically, Latinos tend to strongly support Democratic candidates, believing that Democrats are more concerned with the issues that are important to this key constituency. Latinos differ from the general population on many major issues, and there is divergence among Latinos - between the native-born and foreign-born - especially pertaining to immigration. Understanding the Latino vote in the 2010 election is crucial, as this constituency is a must-win for the presidential election in 2012.

The Economy - the Top Issue in the Midterms
It comes as no surprise that the 2010 midterm elections are evidence of the outcome that economic fear can have for politics – unparalleled voter discontent with government. Gary Langer wrote a thorough analysis of the exit polls and the economy. Ultimately, enthusiasm lagged among Democrats, while dissatisfaction with government and the economy motivated the right, and caused some Obama supporters in 2008 to cross the aisle. According to a recent panel survey conducted by Associated Press and Knowledge Networks, 51% of 2008 Obama voters, compared to 67% of 2008 McCain voters were certain to vote in the midterm elections. In addition, 59% of 2008 Obama voters are still hopeful, but 38% are frustrated; of 2008 McCain voters, 71% are frustrated and 50% are angry (respondents could select multiple options).

According to a recent Pew Hispanic Center survey, however, Latino voters differ from the rest of the population in that they rank education as the most important issue facing the country, with 58% stating it is “extremely important.” The issue of jobs was also extremely important to Latinos, with 54% of Latino registered voters believing it is an “extremely important” issue. Far fewer Latinos (34%) than African Americans (47%) or whites (49%) rated the economy as the most important issue facing the country, in a CNN survey from the summer.

The Latino Vote
As a growing segment of the US population, the Latino vote is increasingly crucial to the success of a candidate. Upwards of 9% of elibible voters across the country are Latino, an increase from 8.6% just four years ago (see the linked Pew Hispanic Center report). More than 19 million Latinos are eligible to vote in the 2010 midterms; Latinos represented the same proportion of voters (8%) in 2010 as they did in 2006.

How does Latino opinion differ from other demographic groups?  A recent survey by CNN finds that:

•60% of Hispanics, compared to 55% of whites and 54% of African Americans believe that there is an excellent or good chance that a Hispanic will be elected president in the next 20 years
•54% of Hispanics, compared to 65% of whites and 35% of African Americans believe the government is trying to do too much
•38% of Hispanics, compared to 23% of African Americans and 45% of whites feel as if they have achieved the American dream

The Pew Hispanic Center released a report in early October predicting the Latino vote in the 2010 election, as well as an analysis of the exit polls from the midterm election. Latino registered voters typically support Democratic candidates; when asked whether they would support a Democrat or Republican in the Congressional Elections, 65% of registered Latinos opted to support the Democrat, compared to 47% of registered voters in the general population. Pew Hispanic Center predicted that Latino voters were less motivated, as 32% of Latino registered voters had thought “quite a lot” about the midterm elections – compared to 50% of all registered voters – and 51% asserted that they were absolutely certain to vote in the midterms – compared to 70% of all registered voters.

According to the analysis of exit poll results reported by CNN, 64% of Latinos voted for the Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives in the recent elections; this percentage is down slightly from the 2006 midterms, when 69% of Latinos supported the Democratic candidate. Still, the large majority of Latinos continue to follow the historical pattern of preferring Democratic candidates.

The 2010 midterm elections were historic for Latinos as three Latino candidates, all of whom are Republican, ran for a state-wide position. In Nevada, Brian Sandoval won the election, becoming Nevada’s first Hispanic governor, garnering just a third of the Latino vote.  

In Florida, Marco Rubio won the Senate race, garnering 55% of the Latino vote, showing greater support for the Republican candidate likely due to the conservative-leaning Cuban-American community.

Differing Opinions on Immigrants among Native Born and Foreign Born Latinos

Native born and foreign born Latinos in the United States take divergent positions on some issues, especially in relation to immigration, according to another recent report by the Pew Hispanic Center. 

The percentage of Latinos agreeing that discrimination against members of their ethnic group is a major problem has increased since 2007 – from 54% to 61% in 2010.  In addition, a majority of Latinos are in favor of a pathway to citizenship with 86% of Latinos in favor, compared to 68% of the general population.  Further, 53% agree that undocumented immigrants should pay a fine but not be deported, and 28% go a step further, saying that undocumented workers shouldn’t be punished at all. Latinos find solidarity around birthright citizenship, with 78% favoring allowing the Constitution to remain as is.  Latinos do tend to be more positive than the general population with regards to the impact of immigrants, with over three quarters agreeing that immigrants in the US strengthen the country.

In addition, the percentage of Latinos asserting that unauthorized immigrants have a positive effect on Latinos in the US has declined from 50% in 2007 to 29% in 2010.  Currently, Latinos are evenly split between reporting that unauthorized immigrants have a positive effect (29%), a negative effect (31%) and no effect at all (30%) on Latinos already living in the US. Further, approximately half of Latinos perceive political solidarity among immigrant and native-born Latinos, and the other half do not believe that foreign born and native born Latinos are working together to achieve shared political objectives.  Native born and foreign born Latinos differ on other topics as well:

•A larger percentage of foreign born than native born agree that immigrants strengthen the country – 85% to 60% respectively
•70% of foreign born Latinos, compared to 49% of native born agree that discrimination is holding Hispanics back
•68% of foreign born, compared to 32% of native born Latinos worry about deportation “some” or “a lot”
•Native born Latinos are more upbeat about the quality of their lives, with 83% saying “excellent” or “good” compared to 58% of foreign born Latinos

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda website.

Tags: public opinion, latino, polling, Opportunity, Elections (all tags)

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