The issue will be key for both major political parties this November, because slight shifts in voting patterns in "swing" states with large Hispanic populations such as New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, and Florida could tip the Electoral College.
While some analysts note that many voters' final decisions are made in the final months before an election, an early snapshot of Hispanic voting preferences in the Tomas Rivera poll found 60 percent said they would vote for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. About 30 percent said they would vote for Republican President George W. Bush, while 2 percent said they would back Reform Party candidate Ralph Nader. Eight percent remained undecided.
"In a presidential election, the people have to decide whether to hire or fire the incumbent," says Andy Hernández, a political science professor at St. Mary's University in San Antonio. "The data suggest to me that the Latino community would fire him."
But Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, says the results do not necessarily reflect a dramatic shift in the preferences of Hispanic voters. Historically, Democrats have had a 2-to-1 advantage in party affiliation among Hispanics. And in presidential elections, 60 percent to 65 percent of Hispanics generally vote Democratic; about 30 percent to 35 percent vote Republican.
For Republicans, capturing a larger share of voters among the growing Hispanic population is expected to be crucial. Republican pollster Matthew Dowd has said that if President Bush wins the same percentage of the vote among every minority group that he received in 2000 – including the 32 percent to 35 percent of the Hispanic vote he garnered – he will lose the election by 3 million votes.
Both campaigns have set in motion local organizations to help mobilize Hispanic voters. Kerry's plan will be to use top Hispanic political leaders, including Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, to appeal to voters.
For its part, the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign has a local activist network in place. "We know if we get the same numbers as the last time around, it's not looking good," says Bush-Cheney '04 spokeswoman Sharon Castillo. "That's why we're being aggressive in reaching out across the spectrum."
|THE TOP ISSUES|
Pew Hispanic Center/Kaiser Family Foundation Poll
2. The economy and jobs
3. Health care and Medicare
4. U.S. campaign against terrorism
5. The war in Iraq
7. Social Security
(Nationwide survey of 2,288 Hispanic adults April through June.)
|Zogby International Poll
4. Civil rights
5. Health care
6. War on terrorism
7. National security
(Survey of 1,000 Hispanic adults conducted May 25-27.)
|Washington Post/Univision/Tomás Rivera Policy Institute Poll
1. Economy and jobs
3. U.S. campaign against terrorism
4. War in Iraq
5. Health care
6. Other/no opinion
(Survey conducted July 6-16 of 1,605 Hispanics registered to vote in 11 states with the largest Hispanic electorates.)
Jonathan Higuera is a business writer for The Arizona Republic.