Latino Political Divide Increases With Changing Religious Beliefs

By Chris Hoenig


Photo by Shutterstock

In less than one generation, the religious profile of Latinos in the United States has shifted, and it only appears to be hurting the GOP’s plan to win the Latino vote.

In a new study from the Public Religion Research Institute and National Institute for Latino Policy, 16 percent of Latino adults who were raised Catholic said they no longer identify as Catholic. Overall, Catholic affiliation among Latinos has dropped from 69 percent to 53 percent in recent decades, with the majority either changing their religious affiliation to Evangelical Protestant or remaining unaffiliated.

Evangelical Protestants now make up 13 percent of Latino adults, up 6 percentage points, while Latinos with no religious affiliation make up 12 percent of the population, an increase of 7 percentage points.

Political Impact

Nearly two-thirds of Latinos said they feel closer to the Democratic Party than they did in the past, while less than 30 percent say the same about the Republican Party. And that general trend carries over to political affiliation: Latinos are three times more likely to identify as Democrat than Republican (50 percent versus 15 percent).

Perception of the GOP among Latinos also hurts the party’s political ambitions. Only 11 percent of the terms and phrases offered by study participants to describe the Republican Party were positive, compared to more than one-third of those they associated with the Democratic Party. Nearly half of the characterizations of the GOP were negative, more than twice the rate for the Democrats.

Perhaps most worrisome for GOP leaders is early polling among the participants for next year’s midterm elections. By a more than 2-to-1 margin (58 to 28 percent), Latino voters prefer Democratic congressional candidates over Republicans.

Latinos played a key role in the 2012 Presidential election, supporting President Obama over Mitt Romney by a 44 percent margin (71 to 27 percent). That gap among Latino voters was the second-largest Democratic advantage since 1980; only President Clinton’s reelection over Bob Dole in 1996 garnered a larger share of the Latino vote (72 percent) and a greater difference in political allegiance (51 percent).

While Latinos made up 10 percent of the voting population in the election—a larger share than any time in the past decade—they made up an even larger share in key battleground states. In Nevada, where Latinos accounted for 18 percent of the vote (up from 10 percent in 2004), President Obama carried the Latino vote by a nearly 3-to-1 margin (70 to 25). In Colorado, Latinos made up 14 percent of the vote and 75 percent cast their ballots for President Obama, compared with only 23 percent for Mitt Romney. Latino voters made up 17 percent of Florida’s ballots, and they voted for President Obama 60 percent of the time.

Political Focus

If the political ambition of the GOP includes winning back some of the Latino vote, the study makes the path clear. While Latinos list jobs and unemployment as the top political concerns today (at a similar pace to Americans overall [72 percent]), rising healthcare costs (65 percent), the quality of public schools (55 percent) and immigration (53 percent) are also keys among Latino voters.

When it comes to immigration, two-thirds of Latinos responded that immigrants currently living in the U.S. illegally should be provided the opportunity to become citizens, as long as certain requirements are met—a share that includes the majority of Latino Democrats (72 percent), Republicans (53 percent) and independents (67 percent). More than half of Latino voters say they would not support a candidate who opposes immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

The Republican approach of cutting taxes over public spending does not sit well with Latino voters either. By a nearly 2-to-1 margin (58 to 33 percent), Latinos surveyed said they believe raising taxes on America’s wealthiest and using the money on education and infrastructure is better for promoting economic growth than cutting spending and lowering taxes.

Losing Some Social Conservatism

Latinos surveyed provided a sharp divide when it came to social issues like same-gender marriage and abortion. While a majority (52 percent) believe abortion should be illegal in most or all cases and 32 percent say abortion is morally wrong, a larger share of Latinos (55 percent) favor same-gender marriage.

Latino Protestants are divided on the issue (47 percent of mainline Protestants support same-gender marriage, compared with just 21 percent of Evangelical Protestants), but unaffiliated (80 percent) and Catholic (62 percent) Latinos are overwhelmingly in favor of allowing LGBT couples to marry.

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