New Poll says Protestant Latinos Moving Toward Obama

October 17, 2008 at 2:55 am Leave a comment

Protestant Latinos, a growing group of voters who were key supporters of President George W. Bush in 2004, have shifted their backing to Democrat Barack Obama, driven in large part by anger toward Republican immigration policies, according to a new poll.

Latinos overall represent about 6 percent of the U.S. voting population, and about one-third of the Latino population in the United States is Protestant. This year, slightly more than 50 percent of Protestant Latino voters say they support Obama, while 33 percent say they will vote for McCain, according to a survey sponsored by Claremont McKenna College and four other organizations. Many respondents said immigration policy was central to their decision.

“The shift is a direct result of the immigration-reform debacle,” said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, one of the survey sponsors. “This is why Latino evangelicals are shifting to Barack Obama.”

There are large numbers of Latinos in the crucial swing states of Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona, where immigration continues to be a deeply contentious issue. The majority of Latinos are Catholic, and traditionally they have leaned toward the Democratic Party.

Republican strategists focused on building a key constituency out of the Protestant Hispanic population during Bush’s first term, an approach that paid off in the 2004 election when 63 percent of those voters sided with Bush, up from 32 percent in 2000.

The new poll indicates that advantage has vanished, in part because many Republicans have urged tough crackdowns on illegal immigration.

McCain positioned himself as a friend to Latinos when in 2006 he teamed up with Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., to write an immigration bill that would have given legal status to millions of illegal immigrants.

Many Latinos were angered when in 2007 the Arizona Republican decided to distance himself from immigration reform, just as House Republicans were adopting a strident anti-immigration platform. Later, McCain said during a campaign debate that he no longer supported the immigration bill he once sponsored.

Gaston Espinosa, a professor of religious studies at Claremont McKenna College, said the Republican stance could continue to reverberate.

“Immigration creates a national perception that Latinos are not particularly welcome in the Republican Party,” Espinosa said. The telephone poll of 500 Protestant Latinos was conducted Oct. 1 to Oct. 7 and has a margin of sampling error of 4.4 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Source: Mercury News

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