By Annie Snider
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By Annie Snider
The halls of Casa Del Rey are rarely empty and, day or night, 21-year-old Abraham Loya can often be found within the walls of the Albuquerque Assemblies of God megachurch, praying, singing or simply helping out.
Faith is the center of Loya’s life, as it is for many of the 3,000 mostly Hispanic congregants at the church, and when Loya enters the voting booth in November, it will be central there, too.
“I’ll probably vote in the fall, and my pastors have a lot of influence. So, I talk to them before I do anything,” says Abraham Loya.
“I’m registered, but I haven’t voted before, and to tell you the truth, I don’t really follow the issues that much,” Loya says. “I’ll probably vote in the fall, and my pastors have a lot of influence. So, I talk to them before I do anything.”
Half a million young Latinos will reach voting age every year between now and 2030, according to Scott Gardner, research coordinator for Bendixen and Amandi. Many of those new voters, like Loya, have grown up in religious communities. How faith shapes their political views will be important for decades to come.
The intersection of faith and politics is complex for any group. Among Latinos, religious affiliation, age and national origin all have a strong impact. Still, as Republicans attempt to peel Latinos from what has traditionally been a Democratic voting bloc, several ways in which faith appears to influence Latinos’ political thinking are piquing GOP curiosity.
By Annie Snider
In political battleground states across the country this summer, a colorful new poster has been appearing in the mailboxes of evangelical Latino pastors.
“Your vote can save the life of the unborn,” it proclaims in bold white lettering against a backdrop of stars and stripes.
The poster is part of a voter registration drive organized by the leading evangelical Latino organization, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. By October they hope to have 100,000 new evangelical Latino voters registered in states with tight elections. By the 2012 presidential election, their national goal is 1 million new voters who will “vote biblically.”
“We recognize that there’s an assumption that Hispanics tend to vote with one party. We want to make sure that no party can lay claim to who we are. We want to make sure people understand we have our stances on social issues,” says the Rev. Johnny Murillo.
“We recognize that there’s an assumption that Hispanics tend to vote with one party,” says the Rev. Johnny Murillo, who is coordinating the group’s voter registration campaign. “We want to make sure that no party can lay claim to who we are. We want to make sure people understand we have our stances on social issues.”
Most Latinos don’t identify as evangelical – about 68 percent are Roman Catholic, according to a study by thePew Hispanic Center – but they are a growing minority. At the time of the 2007 Pew poll, evangelicals comprised 15 percent of the Hispanic population.
Evangelicals, in particular, say their faith has a strong impact on their political thinking. But they aren’t alone in bringing their spirituality into the voting booth.
Two in three American Latinos say their religious views have an important influence on their political thinking, according to the Pew study (internal link to graphic “influence of religious beliefs on politics”). Young Latinos are more likely than their elders to say they don’t belong to a religious tradition, but not nearly as likely as young people in the rest of the population. According to a 2008 study by researchers at Trinity College in Connecticut, 15 percent of 18-29 year old Latinos said their religion was “none” – about half the number who answered similarly in the broader U.S. youth population. And even among Latinos who identify as secular, 37 percent said religion plays a role in their political thinking.
“We call that Catholic residue,” says Deal Hudson, a conservative activist and writer whose books include “Onward Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States.” Deal organized outreach to Catholic voters for Republicans in the last three presidential elections. “One thing that people who were brought up in a Catholic culture understand is religion is not something you can compartmentalize. It enters into absolutely everything.”
One prominent place where faith intersects with politics is in Latinos’ social views. The Pew study found that religious Latinos – both the Catholic majority and the Protestant minority – are overwhelmingly conservative when asked about hot-button social issues, such as abortion and homosexuality.
That puts a glimmer in some Republicans’ eyes.
“George W. Bush won half the Latino vote in the Sun Belt states [in 2004],” says Republican pollster Whit Ayres, “so clearly it’s possible for Republicans and conservative Republicans to win significant parts of the Latino vote.”
In recent elections, GOP candidates have typically garnered about one third of the Latino vote, Ayres says.
That Bush succeeded where few other Republican have was largely due to the deliberate outreach he made to Latino voters over the entirety of his political career, often through religious communities, says Louis DeSipio, a Latino voting expert at the University of California, Irvine. Bush’s campaign understood that, although Latinos poll as conservative on social issues, those are rarely voting issues for them. Whereas the political establishments of both parties are apt to skip directly from the religious identification to its political implications without getting to know the beliefs that connect them, DeSipio says Bush persuaded Latino voters that he understood not just their issues, but also the cultures and beliefs that drove them.
By Annie Snider
In Pilsen, one of Chicago’s Mexican neighborhoods, it’s hard to walk two blocks without passing a Catholic church. Some of the families have lived there for two or three generations, and as the children have grown up and succeeded in the American business world, many have moved to the suburbs.
The Rev. Jim Collins of the neighborhood’s St. Procopius Church still sees them on Sundays, though.
“Our pews are packed,” Collins says. “The extended families come back every Sunday to pray with grandma.”
In fact, family may be more important than social issues when it comes to the Latino vote. As an example of the centrality of family for Hispanics, 61 percent of young American Latinos say children should live at home until they get married, according to a . Extended families of aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins often live under the same roof, and even when they don’t, the ties remain strong.
“When people are forced to prioritize, rarely do those social issues [abortion and homosexuality] appear on the lists of what’s most important to you,” says DeSipio. “Economic issues and education tend to rank higher, and that doesn’t change much by socioeconomics or generation, because there’s this feeling of linked fate – that even if you’ve had some advantages, there are lots of folks around, often family, who haven’t.”
The importance of family may be what drives ideology for the one in three Latinos who identify as conservative, says Deal Hudson, a Catholic Republican organizer.
“My guess is that the word ‘conservative’ means something different [for Latinos] than what it means in the typical Fox News discussion,” says Deal Hudson, a Catholic Republican organizer.
“My guess is that the word ‘conservative’ means something different [for Latinos] than what it means in the typical Fox News discussion,” Deal says. “Their concern about immigration might even be tied up in what they understand about being conservatives – children not being allowed to be with their parents, relatives being sent back.”
Immigration, of course, promises to be the key voting issue for Latinos in the near term. That has driven some prominent evangelical leaders recently to raise their voices for immigration reform.
When President Obama gave an immigration speech at American University in July, he was joined by a number of conservative Christians, including the Rev. Bill Hybels, the influential pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois who leads a network of more than 10,000 evangelical churches, and Richard Land, chief of the Southern Baptist Convention‘s public-policy arm.
“If the new conservative coalition is going to be a governing coalition, it’s going to have to have a significant number of Hispanics in it – that’s dictated by demographics,” Land told reporters. “And you don’t get large numbers of Hispanics to support you when you’re engaged in anti-Hispanic immigration rhetoric.”