Latino partisanship in the United States, as measured by voting behavior, has typically favored the Democratic Party by a two-to-one margin. This preference is due in part to Latinos holding a more positive image of the Democratic Party— specifically, as being more receptive to the needs of economically and socially disadvantaged groups and supportive of ethnic and racial minorities. However, their allegiance to the Democratic Party is considered more variable than the strong Democratic affiliation of African Americans.
This lack of cohesion is due in part to the partisanship differences among Latino national-origin and religious groups. Most Latino national-origin groups, such as Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Central Americans, are solidly Democratic in party orientation and have traditionally had a strained relationship with the Republican Party. In contrast, Cuban-origin Latinos are considered the Republican-leaning exception. Cuban Americans have had a more positive experience with the Republican Party, specifically because of GOP support for a strong anticommunist and proembargo agenda. The Republican Party also has benefited from a growing number of evangelical Protestants and Pentecostals among a traditionally Catholic Latino population, as the latter are more likely to vote Democratic.
In exploring the factors that influence Latino partisanship, research suggests that traditional variables of influence work differently for Latinos. When examining the effect of political ideology on party identification, ideology does not appear to correlate as strongly among Latinos as whites. Latinos are more likely to classify themselves as conservative, but under closer analysis they appear more ideologically complex. Latinos tend to be socially conservative, but are liberal on economic issues, making it difficult to root Latino partisanship within a single left-to-right continuum. Some scholars suggest that this ideological complexity has not strained Latinos’ affiliation with the Democratic Party because Latinos do not tend to base their party affiliation on Republican “family values” issues. Latino partisanship appears to be more political in nature, driven by policy preferences that favor a more activist government.
Debate has been considerable over the strength and stability of Latinos’ attachment to the Democratic Party and the potential for Republican gains. In U.S. presidential elections, Democrats have received solid support from Latinos, typically averaging 65 percent of the Latino vote. However, Republican presidential candidates have at times made inroads with Latinos, leading some to consider Latinos a “swing group.” In 1980 and 1984, Ronald Reagan captured a substantial 37 percent of the Latino vote. Republicans would not again reach such a high level of support until the 2000 election, when George W. Bush received 35 percent of the Latino vote. In 2004, his support further increased to an unprecedented 40 percent of the Latino vote. Evidence from the 2008 presidential election suggests, however, that Bush’s gains among Latino voters were most likely candidate-specific and temporal in nature, as Latinos went back to a Democratic candidate, favoring Barack Obama over his Republican rival, John McCain, by the traditional two-to-one margin. Overall, while findings suggest Latinos’ attachment to the Democratic Party to be somewhat malleable, a Latino realignment is seen as an unlikely prospect.
- Alvarez, R. Michael, and L. García Bedolla. “The Foundations of Latino Voter Partisanship: Evidence from the 2000 Election.” Journal of Politics 65, no. 1 (2003): 31–49.
- Coffin, Malcolm J. “The Latino Vote: Shaping America’s Electoral Future.” Political Quarterly 74, no. 2 (2003): 214–222.
- Hero, Rodney F., Chris Garcia, and John Garcia. “Latino Partisanship, Participation, and Office Holding.” Political Science and Politics 33, no. 3 (2000): 529–534.
- Leal, David L. “Latino Public Opinion: Does It Exist?” In Latino Politics: Identity, Mobilization, and Representation, edited by Rodolfo Espino, David L. Leal, and Kenneth J. Meier. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007.
- Leal, David L., Matt Barreto, Jongho Lee, and Rodolfo O. de la Garza. “The Latino Vote in the 2004 Election.” Political Science and Politics 38 (January 2005): 41–49.
- Suro, Roberto, and Luis Lugo. Changing Faiths: Latinos and the Transformation of American Religion. Washington D.C.: Pew Hispanic Center, 2007.
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