As the religious beliefs of Hispanic Americans continue to diversify, so will their political leanings, according to authors of the Hispanic Values Survey recently released by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute.
Despite entrenched, 3-to-1 Democratic leanings, Institute CEO Robert Jones said Republicans might have an opening to repair serious perception problems among Latinos, who are not convinced either party cares about them.
One of the questions asked just that.
Forty-three percent of Hispanic residents said the phrase "cares about people like you" better describes the Democratic Party, while 12 percent felt it better described the Republican Party.
"Political strategists from both parties would do well to take some lessons here," Jones said.
After the 2012 election, many political analysts have discussed the need for Republicans to better connect with Latinos, who are a fast-growing segment of the American population and one that could be more politically potent if historically low turnout could be reversed.
The survey confirmed earlier findings highlighting a growing number of Evangelical Protestants, who heavily lean Republican, among Latinos as more leave the Catholic faith, whose members have been described as a political bellwether for U.S. elections.
Little discussed in political circles to date is the counter influence of a growing number of Hispanic Americans who do not affiliate with a particular faith and lean heavily Democrat, said Juhem Navarro-Rivera, a research associate at the institute and coauthor of the study.
While 69 percent of survey respondents said they were raised Catholic, just 53 percent said they were today. The number of Evangelical Protestants doubled between childhood and adulthood, from 6 percent to 13 percent, as did the number not identifying with any religion, from 5 percent to 12 percent.
The political implications are most clearly captured by votes in the 2012 presidential election.
President Barack Obama received ballots from 44 percent of Hispanic Evangelicals, compared with 80 percent of those cast by the religiously unaffiliated.
Convincing Hispanic Americans to support a particular party will not, however, simply be a matter of promising immigration reform, warned Sharon Navarro, expert in Latino politics and professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
"Hispanics are not all that different from mainstream America, despite what we may hear," she said.
Although 53 percent of those surveyed described immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship as a "critical issue" facing the nation, the topic ranked only fifth.
Jobs and unemployment ranked first at 72 percent, followed by rising healthcare costs at 65 percent, the quality of public schools at 55 percent and the federal deficit at 54 percent.
Navarro suggested the true key to the Hispanic vote is appealing to middle class socioeconomic issues, where Hispanic identity tends to override the political leanings associated with different religious affiliations, and moving away from a focus on moral issues, such as same sex marriage and abortion, that the survey showed as unlikely to sway their vote.
Support for increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10 is a clear example, Jones said, noting a separate summer survey on the economic values of all Americans.
More than 80 percent of Latinos supported the increase, compared to the nation as a whole.
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Original headline: Survey: As religious beliefs of Hispanics diversify, so do political leanings
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