Religion and Latino Partisanship in the United States

Article excerpt

This article examines the interplay among religion, ethnicity, and the partisanship of Latinos in the U.S. Using pooled data from the 1990-2000 National Election Studies, we assess denominational affiliation and religious commitment as explanations of partisanship. We show that there is more religious diversity among Latinos than is usually acknowledged in studies of Latino politics and that the political importance of religion among Latinos has not been adequately assessed because variation beyond a Catholic/non-Catholic dichotomy has been ignored. We demonstrate that variation in Latino religious affiliation has important political implications.

Contemporary American politics is as competitive as at any time in history. As evidenced by recent elections, even small changes in partisan sympathies or political activity can have a profound impact on the balance of partisan power and accompanying policy outcomes. Given this tenuousness, it is instructive for students of politics to explore sources of partisan change in the U.S. electorate. The rising tide of Latinos seems poised to create such change.1

The Latino population of the U.S. has grown dramatically in the past few decades, surpassing blacks as the largest minority group in the 2002 Current Population Survey. Electorally, Latinos comprised a larger proportion of voters in 2000 than in any previous election. Existing studies have focused on the low levels of participation and citizenship among Latinos, but the political importance of Latinos is increasing (Arvizu and Garcia 1996; Calvo and Rosenstone 1989; Diaz 1996; J. Garcia 1997; Hero and Campbell 1996; Hritzuk and Park 2000; Jones-Correa and Leal 2001; Verba et al. 1993). Since 1994, in fact, Latino participation in elections has increased at almost the same rate as their growth in the population. Given the sheer number of Latinos as well as evidence of rising naturalization and political participation levels, more attention to Latino political behavior is appropriate in order to appreciate the nature and magnitude of their current and future influence on U.S. politics.

While several studies have explored the partisanship and issue attitudes of Latinos (Alvarez and Bedolla 2003; Cain and Kiewiet 1984; Cain, Kiewiet, and Uhlaner 1991; Coffin 2003; F. Garcia 1997; Kosmin and Keysar 1995; Welch and Sigelman 1993), this study focuses specifically on religion and partisanship. Our analysis seeks to understand the interplay between religion and ethnicity in politics and to assess the determinants of partisanship in an important minority. First we establish the theoretical underpinnings of our work by discussing how religion can influence Latino politics in the U.S. second, we describe the religious composition of Latinos in the U.S. during the 1990s. Third, we analyze the connection between Latino religion and partisanship. We conclude by discussing the implications of these findings for partisan alignments in the U.S.

EXPLAINING LATINO PARTISANSHIP

Recently, scholars have conducted creative analyses to provide new analytical leverage on the formation of partisanship among Latinos (Alvarez and Bedolla 2003; Coffin 2003). But these studies do not diverge from earlier studies in at least one important respect-they give little attention to the influence of religion in Latino politics. Studies that do examine religion usually conceptualize it simply as a dichotomy between Catholic and not Catholic. Perhaps due in part to this simplified conceptualization, the literature on the political behavior of Latinos arrives at mixed conclusions as to the effect of religion. In a study comparing the participation of Anglos, African-Americans, and Latinos, Verba and his colleagues (1993) find that both religious affiliation and church attendance are important explanatory factors in understanding participation levels, particularly the low participation of Latinos. Kosmin and Keysar (1995) also find support for the notion that religion is politically important among Latinos, suggesting that Protestants are more likely than Catholics to be Republican. …