What’s Faith Got to Do with It? The Role of Religion &...

What’s Faith Got to Do with It? The Role of Religion & the Latino Vote

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Our Lady of Guadalupe Santa Fe, NM
Our Lady of Guadalupe Santa Fe, NM

With the Latino vote being heavily courted by all parties in this presidential campaign, the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life recently released a survey looking at the role that religion plays in terms of where Latino voters are leaning.

Ronald Reagan famously once said that most Latinos were Republicans, they just don’t know it yet. This often used quote by the GOP relies on the notion that most Latinos are conservative when it comes to social issues like reproductive rights and marriage equity. The Pew survey somewhat challenges this idea showing that three-quarters of Latino Catholics and eight-in-ten religiously unaffiliated Latinos support President Barack Obama’s re-election.

The vote that seems most at play, divided along faith lines, is the evangelical Christian vote with Latino evangelical Protestants, who account for 16% of all Latino registered voters, just 50% prefer Obama, while 39% support his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney according to the Pew survey.

Interestingly enough, the Pew survey seems to reflect the more active role church is playing in politics and policy and not just on issues like access to abortions and LGBTQ rights.  Roughly half of Latinos (54%) who attend religious services at least once a month say they have heard their clergy speak out about abortion, while 43% have heard from the pulpit about immigration, and 38% say their clergy have spoken out about homosexuality.

The survey also actually challenges the notion that religious Latinos are socially conservative.  Half of Latinos now favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, while one-third are opposed. As recently as 2006, these figures were reversed  with 56% of Latinos opposed same-sex marriage, while 31% supported it. Latino evangelicals, however, remain strongly opposed to same-sex marriage with 66% opposed vs. 25% in favor. And this trend isn’t just about the November 6th election, the 2011 National Survey of Latinos, in which 59% of Hispanics said that homosexuality should be accepted by society, while 30% said it should be discouraged by society.

A study released over the summer by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health backs the idea of religious Latinos are being more socially progressive than stereotypes say. According to that study, 74% of Latino registered voters agree that a woman has a right to make her own personal, private decisions about abortion without politicians interfering. 73% of Latino registered voters agree that we should not judge someone who feels they are not ready to be a parent. 67% of Latino voters say they would give support to a close friend or family member who had an abortion. 43% say they would provide a lot of support. Only 23% says they would not feel comfortable offering support. 61% agree that the amount of money a woman has or does not have should not determine whether she could have an abortion when she needs one.

Recent studies show that overall, regardless of religious affiliation, or lack thereof, Latinos are leaning towards voting for President Barack Obama on November 6. Polling conducted in mid-September by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found 51% of registered voters expressing support for Obama, while 42% backed Romney. Latinos who identify as Catholics fall in line with the general Latino electorate in terms of support, countering the official church positions on contraception, access to abortions, and LGBTQ rights.

Of course, all polls and surveys regarding the Latino vote should be viewed carefully as both parties give bilingual sound bites in order to earn support. The only poll that really is going to count will be the results of the actual election on November 6th, and those results are not just going to be based on issues but also will depend on how many Latinos and people in general actually are able to and turn out to vote.

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