Religion, Politics and Hispanics; Trends Point to Complex Voting Bloc
Byline: Gary Andres, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Strategists from both political parties grapple with the implications of the burgeoning number of Hispanic voters in America. And the farther analysts wade into these waters, the more the crosscurrents swirl. Developing a better grasp on the critical link between religious belief and voting behavior is a lifeline to better understanding. But recent trends may muddy the waters rather than provide more clarity about the link between religion and politics for this growing group of U.S. voters.
Attracting larger segments of Hispanic voters is a major tactical goal of both Republican and Democratic Party leaders. And it's no surprise why. This subgroup could significantly reshape electoral outcomes nationally - as Latino voters are already doing in certain regions of the country. And the numbers bear this out. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the share of Latino voters jumped by 23 percent between the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections - over twice the rate of growth of non-Hispanic whites. Most expect these figures to rise even further in 2008.
But a dose of perspective is also needed. As Robert Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, accurately pointed out in a 2005 op-ed, the Latino vote has more potential than actual clout. He noted Hispanics accounted for half the nation's population growth in the past four years, but they only provided one-tenth of the increase in all votes between the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, according to Census Bureau figures. Hispanics represented about 8 percent of the electorate in 2006, according to exit polls. "The growth of the Latino population as a whole may be gigantic," Mr. Suro wrote, "but only one out of every four Latinos added to the U.S. population is an added voter."
Still, trends among Latino voters bear watching and understanding. Republicans grew their numbers among Hispanics in the four election cycles between 1998 and 2004. Piecing together exit polls (with the caveat that they were done by different polling organizations), the Republican Party increased its share of Latino voters during that six-year period. For example, Republicans garnered 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1998, 35 percent again in 2000, 39 percent in 2002 and 44 percent in 2004. But that number plummeted in 2006 to 29 percent, a drop of 15 points compared to 2004. Moreover, despite the shellacking by Democrats in November (Republicans lost ground, for example, among men, women, conservatives and all religious denominations, to name a few) the decline among Latinos represents the largest decrease among all demographic subgroups. …