Latinos are also influenced by the "culture war" or "God gap" thesis, according to a new study. Evangelical Latinos are more likely to support Republicans and secular Latinos are more likely to support Democrats. Catholic Latinos are the least influenced by the culture war thesis.
The study, "Do Latino Christians and Seculars Fit the Culture War Profile? Latino Religiosity and Political Behavior," was published by Troy Gibson, professor of political science at the University of Southern Mississippi, and Christopher Hare, a graduate student in political science at the University of Georgia, in the April, 2012, issue of Politics and Religion.
In recent decades, religiosity has become an important predictor of election outcomes. Those with high levels of religiosity are more likely to vote Republican while those with lower levels of religiosity and those unaffiliated with any religion are more likely to vote Democrat.
At the same time, race and ethnicity have also been reliable predictors of vote choice. Whites more often vote Republican while blacks and Latinos prefer Democrats. For some, race or ethnicity trumps religion. Blacks with high levels of religiosity, for instance, are not more likely to vote Republican than blacks with low levels of religiosity, even though they are more conservative on social issues, such as abortion and homosexuality.
Gibson and Hare wanted to find, therefore, whether or not the God gap is influential among Latinos and whether there is variation among the three main Latino religious groups – evangelicals, Catholics and seculars – after controlling for other factors, such as gender, socioeconomic status and marital status.
They found that, among Latinos, being evangelical or secular has a statistically significant impact on ideology and partisanship in the directions that the "culture war" thesis predicts. Evangelical Latinos are more likely to be conservative and Republican and secular Latinos are more likely to be liberal and Democratic. Among Catholic Latinos, though, there is not a statistically significant relationship.
"Evangelical Latinos are 24% more likely than secular Latinos, and 6% more likely than committed Catholic Latinos, to identify themselves as ideological conservatives, and are 12% more likely than committed Catholic Latinos and 18% more likely than secular Latinos to be Republican," Gibson and Hare wrote.
The finding that Catholicism is insignificant should not be surprising given that Catholics are typically cross-pressured voters. They tend to support Republicans on abortion and gay marriage and Democrats on the death penalty, health care and social welfare programs.
Latinos are considered an important voting bloc for the parties because they are the fastest growing of any race or ethnic group in the country and they are concentrated in states that have a large number of electoral college votes, such California, Florida, New York and Texas.
The Latino vote has become an important topic in the current election. Republicans have done poorly among Latinos in recent surveys. A Fox News February poll of likely Latino voters showed about 70 percent supporting President Obama while only 14 percent said they would support Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee. Many pundits have said that Romney must substantially improve his support among Latinos to win the nomination.
Gibson and Hare's study suggests that both political parties can fruitfully target their Latino mobilization efforts by taking religion into account.
"Perhaps the most important implication of our findings," Gibson and Hare wrote, "is that, while political commentators often paint Latinos with a broad brush, i.e., 'the Latino vote,' Latino political behavior may not be nearly as cohesive as conventional wisdom holds."