Hispanics, religion, and the elections

Hispanics, religion, and the elections

By Gerardo Fernandez

Photo by Rob Boudon/Flickr

In early October, Santa Clara hosted a roundtable to examine what happens “When Politics, Religion, and Journalism Collide,” as the program was titled. The event was hosted by Sally Lehrman, the Knight Ridder/San Jose Mercury News Endowed Chair for Journalism in the Public Interest in SCU’s Department of Communication. Here Gerardo Fernandez, an editor and journalist for an important Spanish-language outlet in the Bay Area, Alianza Metropolitan News, examines how Latino voters may play a pivotal role in this year’s elections—and what’s most important in their minds when it comes to voting.


The political tendency of Hispanics, the largest minority group in the United States, is toward a more liberal, Democratic agenda—though this is a highly religious population, and thus more socially conservative. Many analysts believe that the Hispanic vote will carry a heavy, almost decisive weight on Nov. 6. So who will Latinos mark on their ballots?

The “Yes, we can” (or Sí se Puede) slogan has accompanied the Barack Obama presidential campaign in 2012. The slogan has been used in many pro-immigration rallies, and also for farm worker rights under the baton of César Chávez.

Even while the number of deportations during the Obama administration has been the highest ever (some Republicans accuse the administration of inflating these numbers), Democrats still have a more immigrant-friendly image than Republicans among Latinos. GOP candidate Mitt Romney recently promised to halt Democrat efforts—such as the “deferred action” initiative and the DREAM Act that grant employment and schooling opportunities to qualifying undocumented immigrants—should he become the next president.

While Congress has not passed the DREAM Act legislation, in August President Obama signed a directive enacting some of its key provisions. Also this summer came a U.S. Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s SB 1070, enacted in 2010 and seen as perhaps the strictest immigration enforcement law in the nation. It has been copied by other states with Republican-led legislatures. While the Supreme Court overturned some measures of the law, the “papers, please” provision still stands.

Faith, advertising, and “illegals”

Recent Gallup polls show that at least two out of three Hispanics identify themselves as Catholic. When it comes to attitudes toward matters such as same-sex marriage and abortion, it’s natural to think that many Hispanics would rely on their faith to make a decision in voting more conservatively. However, a recent Pew Hispanic Center poll shows that Hispanic Catholics overwhelmingly support Obama, and that more than half of Hispanics support same-sex marriage.

In fact, 30 percent of Hispanics consider themselves liberal, compared to only 21 percent of the general population. On the other side of the political spectrum, 32 percent of Hispanics claim to think conservatively, versus 34 percent of the overall U.S. population. The rest of Hispanics position themselves in the middle.

How has that fact influenced the political campaigns? According to The New York Times, the Obama campaign has produced twice as much Spanish advertising as the Romney campaign.

That could matter profoundly. There are three states where the Hispanic vote looks to be decisive: Colorado, Nevada, and Florida. And as of today, one out of five Latinos remains undecided. Overall, only one out of 10 voters is still undecided, even after three presidential debates.

It was in the second debate, in Denver, that Romney—whose father was born in Mexico—used the term “undocumented illegals” while otherwise softening his stance on deportation. That may be one more reason that Obama will count again on the Hispanic vote as he did in 2008: winning 67 percent according to Pew.


More from the Roundtable: Bay Area News Group journalist Joshua Richman offers the veteran newspaper reporter’s angle on what it means to cover the intersection of religion and politics today in "Faith in the press?"

And still more about the roundtable on “When Politics, Religion, and Journalism Collide.

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