Expert Commentary

Do Latino Christians and seculars fit the “culture war” profile? Latino religiosity and politics

2012 study by the University of Southern Mississippi in the journal Politics and Religion on religion and politics in the Latino community.

According to the latest census information, Latinos are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, and are already a significant force in American politics. While Latinos voted strongly Democratic in 2008, both parties are increasingly competing for their support. One potent question is the potential importance to Hispanics of “culture war” wedge issues such as gay marriage and abortion.

A 2012 study published in Politics and Religion, “Do Latino Christians and Seculars Fit the Culture War Profile? Latino Religiosity and Political Behavior,” examines the political behavior of evangelical, Catholic and secular Latinos. The researchers, at the University of Southern Mississippi, sought to determine if the effect of religiosity on Latino voting patterns is similar to that of whites and African Americans, especially on “culture war” issues. The study utilizes data from a 2006 Pew survey of 4,016 Hispanic adults.

The study’s findings include:

  • On issues such as abortion, gay marriage and ideology, secular and religious Latinos generally fit in the progressive and orthodox camps of the “culture war,” respectively. However, “this rightward effect is far more substantial for evangelical than committed Catholic Latinos.”
  • “Evangelical Latinos are 24% more likely than secular Latinos, and 6% more likely than committed Catholic Latinos, to identify themselves as ideological conservatives, and are 12% more likely than committed Catholic Latinos and 18% more likely than secular Latinos to be Republicans,” while committed Catholic Latinos are no more likely than secular Latinos to identify as Republican.
  • Compared to their secular counterparts, Evangelical Latinos are substantially more likely to oppose gay marriage and legal abortion in all cases, 42% and 24% respectively. For committed Catholic Latinos, the figures  are 19% and 11%.
  • On the issues of the death penalty, universal health insurance, and collective responsibility for the poor, “religion is a less robust factor, with evangelical Latinos moved in opposition to the death penalty, secular Latinos moved in support of universal health insurance, and [older] committed Catholic Latinos … moved in opposition to the death penalty.”
  • Committed Catholic Latinos behave more like secular Latinos than evangelical Latinos concerning Israel and the Iraq War: “Evangelical Latinos are 20% more likely than secular Latinos to support U.S. involvement in Iraq, and 21% more likely to sympathize more with Israel than Palestine”; and “committed Catholic Latinos are 16% less likely than evangelical Latinos to support the Iraq War, and 13% less likely to sympathize more with Israel than Palestine.”

While political commentators often paint Latinos with a broad brush, particularly when speaking of “the Latino vote,” the researchers state, “Latino political behavior may not be nearly as cohesive as conventional wisdom holds.” The “culture war” dichotomy describes the split between the attitudes of evangelical and secular Latinos with some accuracy, but beyond abortion, the effect of religion on the political beliefs of committed Catholic Latinos is less categorical.

Related studies on Latinos and the election include “Cross-Pressures of Religion and Contact with Gays and Lesbians, and Their Impact on Same-Sex Marriage Opinion” and “Impact of Race and Ethnicity, Immigration and Political Context on Participation in American Electoral Politics.”

Tags: Hispanic, Latino, religion