Latino voters split along religious lines, while most vote Democratic

Published: Friday, Oct. 19 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie was eager to help her childhood nanny register to vote. Christie, a Republican and energetic activist for religious liberty in south Florida, wants every voter she can get in Florida — a key swing state for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

But Christie didn't get the answer she was hoping for when she asked her nanny, who is in her 80s and never learned to read or write, which candidate she supported for president.

"She said she will vote for (President Barack Obama). And when I asked her why are you voting for (Obama), she said, 'Because that's who Univision said I had to vote for,' " Christie recalled.

The perceived influence of a media giant isn't the only challenge Christie faces in her work with The Catholic Association to mobilize Latinos to vote Republican in November. A new survey released Thursday showed almost 70 percent of Latino voters support Obama. A breakdown of the poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center, also found that those voters are divided by religion, with 73 percent who are Catholic backing Obama. Half of those who are evangelical Protestant support the president, as do 82 percent who are religiously unaffiliated.

The poll of more than 1,765 Latino adults, including 903 registered voters, found that candidate preferences mirrored the partisan affiliation of Latinos when broken down by religion. White Catholics are most divided in their partisanship: 47 percent identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, while 46 percent support the GOP, according to a separate mid-September poll by the Pew Forum.

"The Hispanic conundrum — which is what I call it — is very interesting to me," said Christie, a 43-year-old radiologist who was born in Cuba and migrated to the United States from Mexico when she was 12 years old. "Their values are very traditional and not the values of the left. But they do vote Democratic."

Social vs. political

Florida, Nevada and Colorado are among the swing states where Latinos make up at least 14 percent of all eligible voters, Pew said. But Latinos (77 percent) are less certain they will vote than the general public (89 percent) come Election Day.

That uncertainty gives some hope to Christie and The Catholic Association, which announced Thursday an outreach program to Spanish-speaking Catholics with the distribution of a Spanish version of its Religious Freedom Scorecard.

"Spanish-speaking Catholics make up a large portion of Catholics in America, nearly 40 percent, and it is vital to shed light on the President's disappointing record on the all-important issue of religious freedom and how it's come under attack these last four years," said Maureen Ferguson, senior policy adviser for The Catholic Association.

The scorecard gives Romney an "A+" and Obama an "F" on seven different points important to people of faith, including their commitment to protect conscience rights, their views on international religious freedom and their rhetoric when discussing religious liberty, according to a TCA press release.

But religious freedom and other social issues typically don't resonate in a political context with Latino voters, explained David Damore, a political scientist and assistant professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

"In general, Latinos don't see social issues as central to politics. They think abortion, gay marriage and family values issues are better left to the family," Damore said. "In our Nevada survey, just 1 percent said those issues were important to them, and they were all males. Not one female in our survey said that was of interest to them."

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