Latinos Find No Refuge in Either Party, Report Finds

The latest report from the Pew Hispanic Center confirms that Latino voters are leaning Democratic. But it may also reflect a general sense of frustration among Hispanic voters who feel neither party adequately represents their interests.A new report finds a plurality of Hispanic voters see the Democrats as the party that has more concern for Latinos and does a better job handling illegal immigration. No huge surprise there. But the data, presented by the Pew Hispanic Center, also points to a general sense of political dissatisfaction among Latinos, high percentages of whom report they favor neither the Democrats nor the Republicans.

“I think Latinos are reflecting a larger trend in the electorate, which is the sense that neither party is meeting their needs effectively,” said Anna Sampaio, political science professor at the University of Colorado-Denver.

The study, “Hispanics and the 2008 Elections: A Swing Vote?”, found that 57 percent of registered Latino voters say they are Democrats or that they lean Democratic, and 23 percent say they align with the Republican Party.

Forty-four percent of respondents in the survey chose Democrats as the party with more concern for Latinos, while only 8 percent preferred the Republicans in this category. On illegal immigration, 41 percent of Hispanic voters favor Democrats’ handling of the issue, and 14 percent support the GOP. However, 26 percent of Latino voters say neither party does better dealing with illegal immigration, and 44 percent say there is no difference between the parties in their general concern for Hispanics.

Latinos have historically sided with Democrats, but in 2004, George W. Bush received an estimated 40 percent of the Hispanic vote – a record for a Republican presidential candidate. While the GOP made progress courting Latino voters in the early part of this century, the new report finds those gains may be reversing.

“It’s really about the tone of the debate,” said Evan Bacalao of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO). “When it starts to border on xenophobic and maligns Latinos specifically, the Latino electorate takes that to heart. They might be third generation, but they still feel they are being scapegoated.”

With less than a year until the 2008 elections, most GOP presidential hopefuls are talking a tough game on immigration, which has sparked discussion of a possible anti-Republican backlash by Latinos at the polls. With its findings, the latest Pew report may not quell those anxieties, but offers some hope to Republican candidates hoping to appeal to Hispanic voters on other issues.

Although immigration has become a more important issue to Latinos since the last election, it still ranks below education, health care, the economy and crime among Latinos asked to state which campaign issues they care most about personally.

“What’s going to happen in terms of party support is going to depend both on what the parties do on immigration, but equally what the parties do on other issues as well,” said Sampaio. The report notes that Republicans do hold ground with some Latino voters — particularly older people with incomes. But Sampaio notes these are the people most likely to vote.

“If you are a Democrat, knowing you have more support than Republicans is not the end of the game,” she said. “You have to go out and mobilize and be attentive of the people most likely to be supportive of Democrats, which are younger, often less-educated and lower income people.”

Hispanics, despite the fact they are the largest and fastest-growing community of color in the country, make up a small share of the electorate. Roughly 60 percent of the total Hispanic population of 46 million is ineligible to vote either because they lack citizenship or are under 18. In Colorado, Latinos make up nearly 20 percent of the total population but represent only 12 percent of the state’s eligible voters. Only about 9 percent of Colorado Latinos are expected to actually cast a ballot in 2008.

Based on population predictions and past registration and voting patterns, the Pew report predicts a total of 10.6 million Hispanics will register to vote in 2008 up from 9.3 million in 2004. The number of Latinos who show up to vote is expected to increase to 8.6 million from an estimated 7.6 million Hispanics who voted in 2004.

More on the latest report from the Pew Hispanic Center:

Hispanics strongly favor Hilary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Clinton has support from 59 percent of Latino registered voters who align with the Democrats. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama follows with 15 percent. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is in third place with 8 percent, but the report found the only Latino candidate is not yet well-known among Latino voters.

Among Latino registered voters who align with the GOP, 35 percent support former New York City Mayor Rudi Giuliani, followed by 13 percent support for former Sen. Fred Thompson and 10 percent for Arizona Sen. John McCain.

The policies of the Bush administration have had a negative impact on Latinos according to 41 percent of respondents. Only 16 percent say this administration’s policies have been helpful to Latinos, but a full third say there has been no particular effect.

Hispanics and the 2008 Elections: A Swing Vote? was compiled from survey data conducted by phone in October and November of 2007 with a randomly selected sample of 2,003 Hispanics, 843 of whom are registered voters.