Rodolfo de la Garza
Latino voters strongly back gun-control measures, but offer limited support for school vouchers and abortion rights, according to a five-state survey by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI), part of Columbia and the Claremont Graduate University in California. In addition, the survey found that approximately 65 percent of Latinos identify themselves as Democrats while 24 percent are Republicans.
"The survey findings do not lead us to expect that Latinos' affinity for the Democrats would change dramatically in the near future, unless the Republicans switch to a liberal position on socio-economic issues that a great majority of Latino respondents indicate they would take," said Columbia Political Scientist Rodolfo de la Garza, vice president of TRPI.
The Institute conducted the telephone survey of 2,011 Latino registered voters, with approximately 400 each in California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas, prior to the 2000 presidential election (October 8 to October 26, 2000). Polled Latinos included Cubans, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. The survey's margin of error for the entire sample is +\-3 percent. The results of the survey were presented on April 12, at the National Education Association in Washington, D.C.
The survey found that 64.7 percent of Latinos favored gun-control legislation while only 29.1 percent backed vouchers and 37.8 percent supported abortion rights. These views were generally consistent across regions and Latino groups. For instance, 72.5 percent of Latinos in New York backed gun-control measures, compared with 65.9 percent of Latinos in Florida. Also, 35.6 percent of Cubans supported abortion rights, compared with 37.2 percent of Mexicans.
"Regardless of nationality, Latinos have a common domestic policy agenda that is more in line with the Democratic Party than with the GOP," said de la Garza.
Underscoring Latinos identification with the Democratic Party, the survey found that 27 percent of Latinos primarily identify themselves as members of "working families," more than those who identify themselves as "Latinos" (20 percent), "Minorities" (2.4 percent), or "Soccer Moms" (8.7 percent).
In addition, education topped the list of Latino voters' most important public policy issue, consistent with the views of the American public as a whole. Twenty-five percent of Mexicans, 18 percent of Puerto Ricans and 21 percent of Cubans listed education as their top issue priority, well ahead of immigration (6 percent for Mexicans, 3 percent for Puerto Ricans and 10 percent for Cubans). The survey also found a positive relationship between income and concern for education: as the respondent's earnings increased, so did concern for education.
"This is a troubling finding," noted de la Garza. "Education can help lift impoverished Latinos out of their dire economic straits, but only 9 percent of Latinos making up to $25,000 regard it as their top issue priority."
Despite general agreement on policy matters, Latinos in Florida and Cubans -- largely the same sample of voters -- overwhelmingly expressed support for Republican George Bush over Democrat Al Gore in the weeks before the 2000 presidential election. Seventy percent of Cubans and 61 percent of Floridians supported Bush, compared to 19.7 percent and 26.9 percent for Gore (the remainder were undecided at the time of the survey). Interestingly, 54.5 percent of Latinos in Texas supported Gore, compared with 29.3 percent for Bush, the state's governor at the time.
"The Florida/Cuban vote suggests that Cuban support for the Republican party remains tied to their anti-Castro views rather than to their domestic policy concerns," said de la Garza. "Thus, President Bush's strong showing among Florida's Cubans was probably greatly influenced by how the Democrats handled the Elian Gonzalez issue.
"Also, given that in 1996 Florida's Cubans divided their votes almost evenly between the Democratic and Republican candidates, their strong support of President Bush in 2000 suggests they were a key swing vote determining the results of the 2000 election," he added.