WASHINGTON — U.S.-born children of Hispanic immigrants are more likely than their parents to identify themselves as Democrats as they integrate into American life, maintaining strong ties to their cultural heritage while casting themselves as liberal on social issues.
A wide-ranging study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center lays bare some of the difficulties for the Republican Party following elections last November, when President Obama won with support from 80 percent of nonwhite voters. The report tracks the socioeconomic progress and views of second-generation Americans, the bulk of them Latinos and Asians who were born in the U.S. after a 1965 immigration law opened U.S. borders to millions of non-Europeans.
"What's striking over the past several decades is that the two groups at the heart of the modern immigration wave — Hispanics and Asian-Americans — have both been trending Democratic over time, as they sink their roots deeper into American society," Paul Taylor, Pew's executive vice president, said in an interview.
"Many decades ago, Ronald Reagan is said to have described Hispanics as 'Republicans who don't know it yet.' Well, it's 2013, and they apparently still haven't figured it out," he said.
The report says adult children of immigrants as a group are integrating into U.S. society and doing generally better than newly arrived immigrants in median income, educational attainment and English fluency. The second-generation group also reports increased social ties, including intermarriage, with other racial and ethnic groups.
About 60 percent of Hispanics and Asians in the second generation consider themselves to be a "typical American," roughly double the share of first-generation immigrants who think so. At the same time, however, the second-generation groups maintain strong ties to their ancestral roots in an increasingly multicultural U.S., with majorities identifying themselves by their family's country of origin, such as Mexican-American, or by a pan-ethnic label such as Asian-American.
The study is based on Pew's analysis of census data as of March 2012, as well as prior years, supplemented with data from Pew polls including the 2011 and 2012 National Survey of Latinos and the 2012 Asian-American Survey. It uses commonly accepted demographic methods and models to track the population of different generations over time.
In a sign of challenges for the GOP, the generation that includes U.S.-born adult children of more recent Latino immigrants moved politically to the left of those in their parents' generation.
Among Hispanics, 71 percent who are second-generation are Democrats or lean that way, compared to 63 percent in the first generation. Among Asians, the ratio also edged higher, 52 to 49, although not enough to be considered statistically significant.
In the broader public, 49 percent reported that they are Democrats or lean that way.
On social issues such as gay rights and abortion, the adult children of immigrants are more liberal. While 53 percent of first-generation Hispanics say that homosexuality should be accepted by society, 68 percent in the second generation said so. The disparity is even wider among Asians expressing support: 46 percent (first-generation) compared to 78 percent (second-generation). Among the general public, support for gay rights stood at roughly 56 percent.
For abortion, where support and opposition among the overall public is evenly divided, the share of Hispanics who said abortion should be legal in all or most cases grew from one generation to the next, from 33 percent to 55 percent. Among Asians, the share rose from 51 percent to 66 percent.
The study said the relative youth of the second-generation group contributes to, but does not fully account for, their leftward shift on social issues.
But not all issues strictly followed that pattern.
When asked if they preferred a big government offering more services or a smaller government providing less, second-generation Hispanics were less likely than the first generation to support a big government, 71 percent to 83 percent. The same trend of declining support applied to second-generation Asians, 47 percent to 57 percent. Still, support among second-generation Americans for big government was higher than that of the general public, which stood at 39 percent.
The study's findings come as a fiscally conservative GOP is seeking ways to expand its shrinking base of aging white voters. Some Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, are now urging their party to embrace an overhaul of immigration laws, including a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants, to prevent Democrats from using the issue as a wedge in future elections.
Due to immigration and high births, particularly among Hispanics, first- and second-generation immigrants now make up 1 in 4 U.S. residents. They are projected to rise to more than 1 in 3 by 2050. The two groups will represent as much as 93 percent of the growth in the U.S. working age-population between now and midcentury.
Since President Reagan garnered 37 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1980, Hispanic support for Republican presidential nominees has generally fallen, reaching 27 percent last November, according to exit polling conducted for the television networks and The Associated Press. The exceptions: 2000 and 2004, when an immigration-friendly Republican, George W. Bush, won after capturing 35 percent and 44 percent of the Latino vote, respectively. Among Asian-Americans, GOP support has steadily dropped from 55 percent in 1992 to 26 percent last November.
Among the report's findings:
—Better off: Adults in the second generation as a whole do better than those in the first generation in median household income ($58,000 vs. $46,000); college degrees (36 percent vs. 29 percent); and homeownership (64 percent vs. 51 percent). They are also less likely to be in poverty.
—Group relations: About 52 percent of Hispanics and 64 percent of Asian-Americans from the second generation say their group gets along well with all other racial and ethnic groups. That's compared to 26 percent of Latinos and 49 percent of Asians from the first generation. In terms of marriage, about 26 percent of Hispanics and 23 percent of Asian Americans in the second generation have a spouse of a different race or ethnicity, significantly higher than in the first generation.
—Language use: About 9 in 10 second-generation Hispanic and Asian-Americans can speak English "well" or "very well," substantially more than the immigrant generations.
AP polling director Jennifer Agiesta and news survey specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.