Latino Protestants Make Dramatic Shift to Obama, Poll Says

Latino Protestant support for the Republican ticket this year plummeted nearly half that of the 2004 election, a new survey found.

Only 33.6 percent of Latino Protestant registered voters plan to vote for Republican presidential nominee John McCain compared to 50.4 percent for Democrat Barack Obama, according to a survey, sponsored by the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Faith in Public Life, and other groups.

This 17 point difference favoring Obama represents a dramatic shift from 2004 when President George W. Bush solidly won the Latino Protestant vote, securing 63 percent of its support

"This poll shows that the pendulum of the Protestant Hispanic electorate has swung towards the Democratic Party," observed Jesse Miranda, of the Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership, during the press briefing on Thursday. "However, this energy can shift in the opposite direction unless there is support of what is important in terms of the interests and concerns of the largest minority in this country. This should be a clarion call to the next U.S. president."

About 10 percent of the Latino Protestant segment is still undecided, according to the survey.

The issue of immigration was a major factor for this group's swing towards the Democratic Party. Immigration was nearly on par with abortion in importance when determining who Latino Protestants would vote for.

The survey found that 70.8 percent of this group believe immigration reform is an "extremely" or "very" important factor in choosing a candidate to support. For the abortion issue, 74.8 percent gave the same response.

Both these issues have higher priority to Latino Protestants than the issue of gay marriage (55.8 percent).

"The Biblical mandate to welcome the immigrant could not be clearer and we draw our values from our Bibles," commented the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. "This poll powerfully demonstrates that immigration is a profoundly religious issue for Hispanic evangelicals. We will vote our faith and we will vote our values. It's time that all candidates take notice."

More than three-quarters (76.8 percent) of respondents say that their religious beliefs are important in influencing their views on immigration.

Respondents say they feel both parties still need to improve on their response to the immigration issue.

A majority says they have heard public officials speak negatively about immigrants (62.2 percent). The negative rhetoric was most likely associated with both parties (43.4 percent), then Republicans (40.5 percent), and a slim margin associated the negative rhetoric only with Democrats (7.7 percent).

"Yesterday's [presidential] debate demonstrates that both parties find it difficult to address an issue that lays hidden under the 'don't ask, don't tell' canopy," said Rodriguez. "In other words, the proverbial elephant in the room as it applies in the 2008 presidential election is no other than immigration reform."

Hispanic Protestant leaders, during the press conference, described the Latino Protestant vote as the "quintessential swing vote" because they defy stereotypes associated with faith-based voters, yet still say their religious conviction plays an influential role in who they will vote for.

"The findings indicate that both political parties have to work hard to secure and maintain their Latino support," commented Gastón Espinosa, associate professor of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College in California.

"The Latino Protestant community is a volatile voting constituency that is sensitive to direct political canvassing and bread-and-butter issues like immigration."

Espinosa also posed: "Why should we care about the Latino Protestant vote in the first place?"

In response, he pointed out that this group is a "growing phenomenon" and a "fast-growing population."

National polls indicate there are about 9.2 million Latino Protestants in the United States, making them one of the largest groups in the country.

The survey based on telephone interviews, conducted Oct. 1-7 with 500 Latino Protestant registered voters, was sponsored by the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, The Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership at Vanguard University, Faith in Public Life, America's Voice Education Fund and Gaston Espinosa, Ph.D., Claremont McKenna College and conducted by SDR Consulting.

More than 80 percent of Hispanic Protestants in the poll were self-identified as born-again and/or attended an Evangelical denomination.