Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Tending the Flock: Latino Religious Commitments and Political Preferences

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Tending the Flock: Latino Religious Commitments and Political Preferences

Article excerpt

Are Latino1 voters up for grabs politically on the basis of their religious commitments? One response, often given by Republican Party officials, is that traditional family values and generally conservative views on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage (Nicholson and Segura 2005) make Latinos natural allies of the Republican Party (de la Garza and Cortina 2007). High rates of religious belonging and regular churchgoing (Perl, Greely, and Gray 2006), widespread reliance on spiritual guidance in daily life (Pantoja, Barreto, and Anderson 2008; Putnam and Campbell 2010), and the rising share of evangelical Latinos in the United States (McDaniel and Ellison 2008) all suggest Hispanics' potential openness to conservative religious appeals.

A key implication of these claims is that Latinos with stronger religious commitments should espouse stronger Republican Party attachments and more conservative policy views than Latinos with more tentative religious commitments. Indeed, research shows this to be the gen- eral pattern for non-Hispanic whites in the United States (Green 2007; Guth et al. 1995; Layman 1997, 2001; Layman and Carmines 1997; Mockabee 2007; Smidt 2013; Wilcox 1986). Does this pattern also hold for Latinos in contemporary American politics? Or do Latinos more closely resemble African Americans, for whom traditional religious beliefs are associated with greater racial solidarity and Democratic Party support (Brown and Brown 2003; Calhoun-Brown 1996; Reese and Brown 1995)?

Answers to these questions have broad implications for how we understand Latino and American politics because they provide a window into the relationship between a widespread institution of civil society that touches the lives of most Americans-houses of worship- and the political allegiances of a rapidly growing demo- graphic group (Suro et al. 2007). More than 90 percent of Latinos identify with some religious faith (Perl, Greely, and Gray 2006; Putnam and Campbell 2010), a remark- ably high percentage that suggests the potential impact of Latino religious commitments. Whether Latino religious identifiers resemble white Americans or look more like African Americans speaks to practical and theoretical claims about the future place of Latinos in American electoral politics. The practical is whether Republican operatives are right to believe that traditional religious appeals will persuade Latino voters. The theoretical is how religious commitments relate to political preferences in a multiethnic American polity.

The answers turn out to be straightforward. Latino Catholics, who represent between 65 and 70 percent of the overall Latino population (Perl, Greely, and Gray 2006), as well as Latino Catholics who attend church regularly-those who are the most committed to their religious faith and potentially the most receptive to tradi- tional religious appeals-are no more conservative in their political preferences than, respectively, Latinos who do not identify with an organized religion and Latino Catholics who are less committed to their faith. Instead, committed Latino Catholics are both more likely to sup- port immediate amnesty for undocumented immigrants and more likely to support government welfare policy. Far from being open to religious appeals, Latino Catholics appear sympathetic to liberal Democratic views on Latino-salient issues, evidence suggestive of a process of cultural reinforcement that takes place within Catholic parishes.

I also find that Latino Protestants are consistently more conservative in their political preferences than Latinos who do not identify with an organized religion, results that confirm previous findings (Kelly and Kelly 2005; Kelly and Morgan 2008; J. Lee and Pachon 2007). I extend previous work in this area by also showing that committed Latino Protestants-those who attend church on a regular basis-are substantially more conservative than their less-committed fellow Protestants. Overall, while Protestant identification is on the rise among Latinos in the United States (Putnam and Campbell 2010; Smidt 2013), and religious commitments among this group are associated with more conservative political views, Latino Protestants still comprise a small share of the overall Latino population. …

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