February 10, 2006

Poll of Latinos presents complex set of political views

By Michael Doyle
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — The new National Latino Survey released recently suggests a complex set of findings. Viewed one way, the GOP hard line on immigration could squander the party’s rich opportunity to recruit Latino voters.

“The Republican leadership is using the issue to attract its base,” Latino Coalition president Robert de Posada said Thursday, “but they’re ignoring what it means for their future.”

At the same time, many Latino voters profess immigration views commonly held in the Republican-dominated Congress - despite an abiding split in partisan loyalties.

Only 16 percent of Latinos surveyed nationwide said Republicans represented their views on immigration, while 46 percent said Democrats represented their immigration views. By an even larger margin, Latinos were more likely to say Democrats were “in touch with the Hispanic community.”

The telephone survey of 1,000 Latino adults suggested a blending of tolerance and discipline. While an overwhelming 82 percent support creation of a new temporary worker program, Latino registered voters were also evenly divided among those who call existing U.S. border security “too strict” or “too lenient.”

The fifth annual survey was conducted last month, just as the Republican-controlled House was approving a border security bill that emphasizes new fences and tougher enforcement. The Latino Coalition likened the potential political consequences to what happened in California following the 1994 adoption of Proposition 187, which would have cut off services to illegal immigrants.

“We could see a repeat of the (governor) Pete Wilson era, where Latinos are totally alienated from the Republican Party,” de Posada said.

At least some Republican lawmakers agree.

“I think there’s a possibility that if you just try to deal with enforcement, you have the risk of losing Hispanic votes,” stated Rep. George Radanovich, R-Calif.

Still, among registered voters, the survey found the kind of divided opinion found in the broader population as well.

Fifty percent of Latino voters, for instance, support increasing the number of Border Patrol agents, while 41 percent do not. Fifty-two percent support requiring illegal immigrants to leave the United States before applying for citizenship, while 38 percent do not. And while 41 percent oppose toughening laws to make sure illegal immigrants can’t be hired, 49 percent support such crackdowns.

As an organization, the Latino Coalition formally opposes the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act passed by the House on a largely party-line vote. The group’s interpretation of the new survey data closely tracks its previously expressed ideology.

The Senate will next take up the immigration issue, with many lawmakers predicting the House’s enforcement-only approach will be greatly modified.

While promoting a political agenda, the new survey comes from an organization that’s previously hit the mark. The 2004 National Latino Survey accurately predicted that President Bush would pull within 9 points of Democrat John Kerry among Latino voters, while other analysts had been predicting a wider Democratic advantage.

Like previous surveys, the new study suggests many Latino voters share the kind of conservative social and economic views championed by the Republican Party. Majorities oppose gay marriages and support lower taxes and requiring parental approval for teenage abortions. But with the Spanish-speaking if Bush now a lame duck, the party is also in danger of losing one of its most effective cheerleaders in Latino communities.

“The coattails that President Bush brought to the party are disappearing,” de Posada said.

The survey identified general differences between Latinos who are registered to vote and those who are not, with the unregistered tending to be relative newcomers who speak Spanish only and have lower income and education levels. The unregistered Latinos tend to oppose stricter immigration and border security measures.

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