Religion tends to be a delicate subject, and its place in politics can be described as such. However, the growth of the Evangelical movement has led to an increased political presence in the United States. A substantial number of Hispanics has joined the movement during its expansion. In general, Evangelicals have supported conservative policies and GOP candidates. Hispanic Evangelicals have, for the most part, voted similarly. This offered the GOP a strong base of support from a sub-group of a growing voter demographic.
In 2004, 60 percent of Hispanic Evangelicals voted for George W. Bush, helping him to win over 40 percent of Hispanic votes nationally. However, in 2008 Barack Obama narrowly won a majority of the Hispanic Evangelical vote. In my opinion, this shift proves that this sub-group of voters could stick with the Obama Administration, or swing back to support the GOP candidate. This voter group is likely to favor the social conservatism of the GOP, which, I believe, gives the Republican candidate an inherent advantage to winning the hearts and minds of these voters. Currently, it seems the remaining candidates for the GOP presidential nomination are out of step with their natural social allies due to their policy positions.
In an interview with the Huffington Post’s Carlos Harrison, the president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, Gabriel Salguero, stated that his coalition focuses on three main issues: “which are: protecting poverty-focused programs domestically and abroad; advocating for immigration reform, comprehensive and humane immigration reform; and advocating for educational equity.” Many of the policies that GOP candidates have advocated are not aligned with the coalition’s concerns. The majority of the remaining candidates have taken anti-illegal immigration positions or moved further towards them (Mitt Romney), which have been interpreted by some to be “anti-immigrant.” The staunch opposition to the DREAM Act is also contrary to hopes of Hispanic Evangelicals. Of all of the remaining candidates for the GOP nomination, only Newt Gingrich has taken a position likely to be seen favorably by Hispanic Evangelicals. Gingrich’s views on immigration seem to be the only example of the candidates potentially meshing with these voters’ wishlist. They have had the support of Hispanic Evangelical’s on social issues, for example abortion, but this may not be enough to carry their votes unless there are some fundamental shifts in policy positions.
The “big picture” dictates that if the Republicans are serious about a bid to win the Hispanic vote, GOP candidates ought to look to sub-groups like this and attempt to better understand and accommodate their desires. This is one of a few challenges for the eventual GOP nominee in the 2012 presidential election as they attempt to rally traditional bastions of support. This week at the Hispanic Leadership Network’s “Inspiring Action” conference in Miami, Florida I will get a first-hand look at how successful GOP candidates are at cultivating support among another traditionally supportive sub-group of Hispanic voters: Cuban Americans. Much more to come on this subject…