Latinos are divided by religion in their preferences in the upcoming presidential election, according to the latest survey by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, both projects of the Pew Research Center. Three-quarters of Latino Catholics and eight-in-ten religiously unaffiliated Latinos support President Barack Obama’s re-election. However, among Latino evangelical Protestants, who account for 16% of all Latino registered voters, just 50% prefer Obama, while 39% support his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.
These same patterns are reflected in Latinos’ partisan affiliations. Eight-in-ten religiously unaffiliated Latino voters (who make up 15% of the Latino electorate) and seven-in-ten Latino Catholics (57% of the Latino electorate) are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party. Among Latino evangelical voters, identification with the Democratic Party is lower; about half are Democrats or lean Democratic, while about a third are Republicans or lean toward the Republican Party.
As the presidential election approaches, many Hispanic churchgoers say they are hearing from their clergy about various political issues and, to a lesser extent, about candidates and elections. Roughly half of Latinos (54%) who attend religious services at least once a month say they have heard their clergy speak out about abortion, while 43% have heard from the pulpit about immigration, and 38% say their clergy have spoken out about homosexuality. A smaller proportion, roughly three-in-ten, report hearing from their clergy about candidates and elections.
The new survey also finds rapidly growing support for same-sex marriage among Latinos, mirroring growing support among the general public. Half of Latinos now favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, while one-third are opposed. As recently as 2006, these figures were reversed (56% of Latinos opposed same-sex marriage, while 31% supported it). Latino evangelicals, however, remain strongly opposed to same-sex marriage (66% opposed vs. 25% in favor).
This report takes an in-depth look at the link between religion and political topics in the Latino community. It is based on a nationally representative bilingual telephone survey conducted jointly by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Sept. 7-Oct. 4, 2012 (largely before the first presidential debate), among 1,765 Latino adults, including 903 registered voters. The Latino electorate today includes 23.7 million eligible voters – an increase of more than 4 million since 2008. Overall, Latinos now account for 11% of the nation’s eligible electorate, up from 9.5% in 2008. In addition, Latinos make up at least 14% of all eligible voters in three battleground states this year – Colorado, Florida and Nevada. Additional information on the Latino electorate, including a discussion of how many Latinos are likely to vote in the upcoming election and an analysis of their issue priorities, is available in a recent Pew Hispanic Center report “Latino Voters Support Obama by 3-1 Ratio, But Are Less Certain than Others about Voting.”
Presidential Preferences and Partisanship
Overall, Latino registered voters strongly back Obama in this year’s presidential race. When asked who they would vote for if the election were held today, Latino registered voters support Obama over Romney by more than three-to-one (69% vs. 21%). By comparison, the general public is more evenly divided. Polling conducted in mid-September by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found 51% of registered voters expressing support for Obama, while 42% backed Romney.1
Hispanic Catholics who are registered to vote look very much like the Hispanic population overall, with nearly three-quarters supporting Obama (73%) and about one-in-five supporting Romney (19%). White, non-Hispanic Catholics are much more evenly divided, with 47% in favor of Obama and 46% in favor of Romney (as of mid-September).
Hispanics who are not affiliated with a religion also are strongly in favor of Obama (82% Obama vs. 7% Romney). Among the religiously unaffiliated in the U.S. general public, roughly two-thirds favor Obama.
Hispanic evangelical Protestants are more narrowly divided, with half supporting Obama (50%) and about four-in-ten supporting Romney (39%). This is in contrast with white, non-Hispanic evangelical Protestant registered voters, among whom a solid majority supports Romney (74%).
Most Latino registered voters favor Obama over Romney regardless of their self-reported level of religious attendance. However, those who say they attend religious worship services at least once a week are somewhat less likely to support Obama (61%) than those who say they attend either monthly or yearly (73%) or seldom or never (76%).
Latino registered voters also express a strong affinity for the Democratic Party in their political party identification. A majority of Latino registered voters identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party (70%), while 22% identify with or lean toward the Republican Party. Identification with the Democratic Party among Latino registered voters has grown since 2004, when 55% of Latino registered voters identified as Democrats and 28% as Republicans.
About seven-in-ten Latino Catholic registered voters identify as Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party (71%), while about one-in-five identify with or lean toward the Republican Party (21%). And fully eight-in-ten religiously unaffiliated Latinos identify with or lean toward the Democrats (81%), while only one-in-ten are Republicans or lean Republican. Latino evangelical Protestants are more divided, with about half identifying as Democrats (52%) and 36% as Republicans.
By comparison with Hispanic Catholics, white Catholics are much more divided in their partisanship; 47% identified with or leaned toward the Democratic Party, while 46% supported the GOP in the mid-September poll. White evangelicals lean more strongly toward the Republican Party than do Hispanic evangelicals; 72% of white evangelicals identify with the GOP, compared with 36% of Hispanic evangelicals.
More Latinos Now Favor Gay Marriage Than Oppose
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%) than oppose same-sex marriage (34%). This finding reflects the overall trend in the general public toward more support for same-sex marriage, and is in line with the 2011 National Survey of Latinos, in which 59% of Hispanics said that homosexuality should be accepted by society, while 30% said it should be discouraged by society.
About half of Hispanic Catholics favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally (54%), while 31% of Latino Catholics oppose same-sex marriage. About seven-in-ten Hispanics who are religiously unaffiliated also favor legal marriage for gays and lesbians (71%). Hispanic evangelical Protestants, by contrast, remain opposed to legal marriage for gays and lesbians by more than two-to-one (66% opposed, 25% in favor).
White, non-Hispanic Catholics express about as much support for same-sex marriage as Hispanic Catholics do (53% and 54%, respectively). White evangelical Protestants are somewhat more opposed to gay marriage (76%) than are Hispanic evangelical Protestants (66%).
Among Hispanics overall, there is less support for same-sex marriage among those who attend religious services regularly (40%) than among those who attend religious services less than once a week (60%). 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% of weekly Mass-goers. 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.
What Hispanics Hear From Clergy About Politics
Overall, 54% of Latinos say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month. Among this group, about half (29% of Latinos overall) say the clergy in their church or place of worship speak out about abortion (54%). About four-in-ten Latinos report hearing their clergy speak out about immigration (43%), and a similar number say their clergy speak out about laws regarding homosexuality (38%). Latinos are least likely to report that their clergy speak out about candidates and elections (29%).
The extent to which Latinos are hearing about social and political issues in their places of worship varies somewhat by religious tradition. While about half of Latino Catholics (48%) say their clergy speak out about immigration, fewer Latino evangelical Protestants (38%) report hearing about that topic from their clergy. Latino evangelical Protestants, conversely, are somewhat more likely than Latino Catholics to report that their clergy speak out about laws regarding homosexuality (47% of evangelicals vs. 36% of Catholics). Latino Catholics and Latino evangelical Protestants are about equally likely to have clergy who speak out about abortion (57% and 52%, respectively) and about candidates and elections (32% and 29%).
1 Subsequent polling conducted Oct. 4-7, 2012, by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found an evenly divided electorate, with 46% of all registered voters expressing support for Obama and 46% saying they would vote for Romney. The mid-September poll was chosen for comparison in this report because it was fielded during the same period as the 2012 National Survey of Latinos. (return to text)
Photo Credits: © Getty Images