By Isaac Garrido
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire
WASHINGTON - The majority of the U.S. Hispanic population says the Iraq War, and not illegal immigration, is the most important problem the country faces, a new survey revealed.
The 2006 Latino National Survey, sponsored by the University of Washington’s Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Sexuality, and released Dec. 7, interviewed 8,634 Latinos, both citizens and non-citizens.
Respondents were drawn from 15 states with high Hispanic populations, including the “emerging states” of Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa and North Carolina, where the Latino population has grown in recent years.
“We are trying to provide an accurate reflection of Latino political attitudes, behaviors and beliefs, so that we can understand the sample of Latinos; how they understand themselves in the United States and how we understand them,” said Luis Fraga, associate professor of political science at Stanford University.
Fraga, one of the poll’s six principal investigators, said it is the largest of its kind since a similar 1989 study. “We are just beginning to explore the area,” he said.
According to the poll, regardless of their citizenship status, about a third of Latinos considered the Iraq war the most important problem, 30 percent of Latino citizens and 33.2 percent of non-citizen Latinos.
Half of the Latinos said they oppose or strongly oppose keeping U.S. troops in Iraq to stabilize the government. Of that number, 38.8 percent were strongly opposed.
Just 14.8 percent of non-citizen Latinos said illegal immigration is the most important problem. Among Latino citizens it was 8.4 percent.
Fraga explained that this finding reveals that a great number of Latinos, especially those born in the U.S., are “feeling more comfortable” here than previous generations and tend to agree with what most Americans would have said.
However, when participants were asked about the most important problem facing the Latino community, illegal immigration topped the list, at 29.8 percent. Unemployment and jobs was next, at 12.1 percent. More than 17 percent said they didn’t know or refused to answer.
Other issues that respondents identified as important problems within the Hispanic community were education, the economy and race relations.
The survey, conducted from 2005 through mid-2006, found a plurality of Latinos, 34 percent, consider themselves Democrats. Ten percent considered themselves Republicans, and 17.6 percent said they were independents. But the largest group, 37.8 percent, said they didn’t know or didn’t care.
Latinos make up 13 percent of the U.S. population and, according to the survey’s projections, this will nearly double by 2030.
“We talk about them, but sometimes we do not have any information,” Fraga said about the Latino community. He also said that, unlike other polls, which mainly provide results from Texas and California, the “multi-state” sample is more representative of the Latino population.
The poll revealed that more than half of Latinos said the main reason they came to the U.S. was to improve their economic situation.
When non-citizens were asked if they plan to become citizens, about half said no. Just over 7 percent of Latinos are currently applying for citizenship, and 38 percent said they plan to apply. Citizens made up 57 percent of the sample.
According to the survey, 23 percent of Latinos consider themselves to be white. The largest group, 67 percent, specified “other” to the open-ended question. The survey found less than 2 percent claimed to be black, American Indian/Native American, Asian Indian or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.
More than half said Latinos make up a distinctive racial group in America.
The poll also found about a third of Latin Americans prefer the term “Hispanic” to be used in referring to them, while another third has no preference between Hispanic and Latin American. The rest were divided among a preference for Latino or no preference at all.
Interviewing Service of America completed 8,634 telephone interviews, conducted in either English or Spanish from Nov. 17, 2005, to Aug. 4, 2006. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point.
The states polled California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Arizona, New Jersey, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Arkansas, Iowa and the D.C. metropolitan area, covering several suburbs in Virginia and Maryland.