(MintPress) – The Hispanic vote has increasingly become a demographic of significance for candidates of all office, especially the presidency. A growing presence of Latino-Americans is creating a political dynamic that can no longer be ignored. And while it may seem that Hispanic voters would naturally lean left, the religious dynamic leaves some voting for the other side of the political aisle.
Religion aside, it would seem Hispanics would favor Barack Obama in 2012. And they do, according to national polls. Yet there’s still a struggle between those whose faith dictates a conservative social stance.
A Pew Hispanic Center Survey this month indicated that three-quarters of Hispanic Catholics supported Barack Obama, with 80 percent of non-religious Latinos supporting the president. The case for Evangelical Latinos was different, though, with just 50 percent responding they’d vote for Obama — Mitt Romney received 39 percent support.
That’s quite different from the white religious population in the U.S. The same Pew survey shows that 54 percent of Catholics support Obama, with just 19 percent of Evangelicals sharing that political opinion.
While Obama’s record for deportations has hit record levels, he’s also shown a willingness to work with the Latino population. Just this year he implemented the two-year visa extension program for young people residing illegally in the U.S. While not perfect, it was better than the alternative for those who travelled here illegally at a young age.
Yet many of those who benefit from the new visa program consider religion to be a top priority in their lives. Considering how fundamental it is to who they are, their beliefs play a pivotal role in their decisions at the ballot box.
The divide: politics and religion
Those within the Catholic Church and Evangelical community typically promote a socially conservative set of values, with abortion and gay marriage top priorities. In many sects, voting for a candidate who supports abortion is not tolerated.
This leaves the Hispanic population in a tough spot. A vote for one candidate could further their road to acceptance in U.S. society, but it could also leave them with a spiritual conundrum.
According to the Pew survey, Latinos who attended religious services regularly indicated abortion was discussed more than immigration. Fifty-four percent of Latinos said abortion had been discussed from the pulpit, while only 43 said the issue of immigration had come up.
At this point in the game, Obama (and the Democratic Party) have managed to convince Latinos that the left is where they belong. While Hispanic voters don’t necessarily have to worry about deportations, it’s likely they know people within their community who are.
Politicians, on the other hand, know that the Latino vote is important. Republican candidate Mitt Romney recently changed his position on Obama’s two-year visa program. Initially opposed to it, he mentioned during this year’s debates that he won’t repeal it.
Yet Romney’s supporters remain some of the Hispanic community’s largest enemies, including conservative Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known nationally for his hardline approach and crude attitude against the Hispanic community.
Romney was also caught on a hidden camera speaking about the Hispanic vote during a private campaign fundraiser.
“We’re having a much harder time with Hispanic voters. And, if the Hispanic voting bloc becomes as committed to the Democrats as the African-American voting bloc has, in the past, why we’re in trouble as a party and, I think, as a nation,” Romney said.
Romney’s Catholic running mate, Paul Ryan, has been a vocal advocate lately for tough illegal immigration legislation. The Wisconsin congressman voted in favor of a bill in 2005 that would have made residing in the U.S. illegally a criminal offense and would have treated illegal entry as a felony. That means even those who became U.S. citizens through marriage would have been charged with a felony — and because of that, would not have been able to obtain a marriage visa.
Policies like that don’t sit well with Hispanics, yet not everyone is convinced that those issues matter more than abortion and gay marriage. Some of the people who could have been impacted by that bill could perhaps find themselves in the same Catholic church as Ryan, listening to the same sermon.
The African-American population in the U.S. has found itself in an equally difficult situation, with many conservatives within the Evangelical church favoring voter ID laws that African-American communities have stood against, citing the likelihood such provisions would discriminate against members of their own minority community.
An evolving view within the church
As a population grows, clout typically follows. Large numbers are difficult to ignore, especially if unity is necessary to work toward a common goal.
A CBS poll taken in March showed that 50 percent of primary voters in the Republican Party classified themselves as Evangelical or born-again Christians. Of the two major parties, Republicans tend to have more of a hardline approach toward the issue of illegal immigration.
U.S. Census data released in May showed that non-Hispanic white babies born between July 2010 and July 2011 were the minority for the first time ever. With that in mind, will a change need to be made within the Evangelical and Catholic communities when it comes to issues of immigration, especially during a time when that population is growing?
Jim Daly, president of Evangelical organization Focus on the Family, recently released an “Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform.” It was a move that shocked many, as his organization is often sided with conservative politicians and causes. In a sense, he went against the grain.
“When you look at it, the immigration issue is not just a legal issue,” Daly said in an interview with Christianity Today. “We respect what needs to be done there and hopefully we can strengthen laws, enforce laws and do all the things that we need to do in that way, because it’s important for a country to establish its borders and maintain its borders. But when you look at the family impact now and the stories we’ve received over the past year or two, it’s pretty tragic”
With an Evangelical in that position drawing attention to the humanity of the situation many Hispanics face, it’s likely to have an impact on the denomination, in general. And with Evangelicals playing such a large role in the success of the Republican Party, it’s reasonable to assume conservative leaders will have to listen — and perhaps change their hardline approach.
In the meantime, Hispanics will continue to face the inner struggle between voting for the future of their fellow Latinos, or for voting in line with their religion, based on the two social issues the church has seemingly placed the most importance on.