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Latino voters split along religious lines, while most vote Democratic

Published: Monday, July 27 2015 7:49 p.m. MDT

In this Friday, June 29, 2012 photo, Carissa Valdez, left, a volunteer for President Barack Obama's reelection campaign, listens to Ruben Gallardo, who she registers to vote, as a group of volunteers work to register new voters as they canvass a heavily Latino neighborhood in Phoenix. Across the country both political parties have been courting the Latino vote, the nation's fastest-growing minority group.  (Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press) In this Friday, June 29, 2012 photo, Carissa Valdez, left, a volunteer for President Barack Obama's reelection campaign, listens to Ruben Gallardo, who she registers to vote, as a group of volunteers work to register new voters as they canvass a heavily Latino neighborhood in Phoenix. Across the country both political parties have been courting the Latino vote, the nation's fastest-growing minority group. (Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press)

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."

Like the rest of the nation, Damore said, jobs is the top issue this year for Latino voters in Nevada, followed by immigration. Another issue where Latinos mirror the nation, the Pew Forum found, is same-sex marriage. For the first time since the Pew Hispanic Center began asking the question in its National Survey of Latinos, more Hispanics favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally (52 percent) than oppose same-sex marriage (34 percent).

But when religion is part of the equation, those numbers change. Among Hispanics overall, fewer support same-sex marriage among those who attend religious services regularly (40 percent) than among those who attend religious services less than once a week (60 percent).

"This same pattern is seen among Latino Catholics; six-in-ten Latino Catholics who attend religious services less than weekly support same-sex marriage, compared with 46 percent of weekly Mass-goers," the Pew study stated.

Among Latino evangelicals, opponents of same-sex marriage outnumber supporters among both regular church attenders and those who attend religious services less than once a week.

Changing minds

"I really admire the evangelicals," Christie said. "They are wonderful in their enthusiasm and openness, and they are not afraid to put themselves out there for ridicule."

Christie, who became involved in the Catholic Church's Respect Life campaign after she and her husband adopted a child from China about five years ago, said her fellow Latino Catholics can grasp the issue of religious freedom, but it takes some convincing that it is a political issue they will be deciding when they vote.

She explained that many Latinos come from countries where they faced religious persecution, but they have difficulty believing it can happen in the United States.

The church's hierarchy has come out against the Obama administration's mandate, under the Affordable Care Act, that religiously affiliated organizations like schools and hospitals must provide contraceptive coverage to their employees. Churches have sued the government claiming the mandate violates their right to practice religious beliefs that proscribe contraception.

But Christie gets considerable pushback when she addresses non-Catholic groups. "A lot of issues are conflated, and (voters) are drawn in by the left selling it as women's health issue. They have been successful selling it as a 'war on women,' " said Christie, who uses her medical credentials to argue the mandate is based on ideology, not science.

Christie and the TCA believe that with outreach and education on what they see as the Obama administration's growing threats to religious liberty, they can change Latino voters' minds. She will speak at the Stand up for Religious Freedom rally Saturday in Fort Lauderdale with Archbishop Thomas Winski. Her children will also be there handing out fliers.

"I think people can change because (the threat to religious liberty) is real and it's true," she said. "If you can speak to someone in a certain way and approach them in a certain way you will be able to peel the scales from their eyes, and once the scales are gone everyone has to see the issues the same way. I believe that."

email: mbrown@desnews.com

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