National Hispanic survey reveals key info on demographic

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It is widely expected that the 2010 Census will show the U.S. Hispanic population continues to be our nation’s largest, fastest growing minority group, surpassing the present totals of 47 million people or over 15 percent of the population.

While this demographic has been more favorable to Democrats than Republicans, current Democrat policies on spending, debt and national security provide an opening for Republican gains, according to a new national survey of Hispanic voters released today by Resurgent Republic, a non-profit that gauges public opinion toward government policy proposals.

On the economy, reckless government spending and record federal deficits lay the groundwork for Republicans to increase their standing with Hispanic voters, 50 percent of whom believe the nation is on the wrong track. Democrat leaders boldly embrace an $800 billion-plus shovel-ready stimulus, yet Hispanic voters say it is not working and that any unspent funds should be used to reduce the deficit, 51 to 43 percent.

When asked if the federal government should spend more to help the economy recover or spend less to help reduce the budget deficit, Hispanic voters support spending less by a margin of 54 to 38 percent.

The record spending and debt is of concern to nearly 9 of 10 Hispanic voters, with 56 percent “very concerned” and 31 percent “somewhat concerned.” These voters also would be supportive of immediate action to alleviate the skyrocketing debt. By 61 to 37 percent, Hispanic voters favor Congressman B’s more conservative argument:

Congressman A says the nation’s high level of debt is a temporary response to an economic crisis, and can only be addressed after the economy turns around.

Congressman B says the nation’s high level of debt is a serious burden that will limit economic growth in this country for our children and grandchildren and must be addressed now.

This quantitative response is similar to our qualitative findings during focus groups with Independent Hispanic voters last August. Resurgent Republic observed palpable frustration expressed over the level of debt from these voters, especially women.

For all the high expectations and promise of the Obama presidency, only 15 percent believe the situation for Hispanics is better compared to a year ago. While a strong majority (61 percent) believe the situation for Hispanics is about the same, 20 percent believe it’s worse.

At the same time, Republicans face real challenges in overcoming the affinities a majority of Hispanic voters have for Democratic policies and leaders. In our survey, 51 percent self-identify as Democrats. A majority also say their top concern in the nation is the economy and job creation, and when asked which political party is better able to handle that concern, these voters prefer Democrats over Republicans 2-to-1.

Moreover, 65 percent of Hispanic voters hold the Bush administration more responsible for the current state of the economy, and on immigration reform, Hispanic voters overwhelmingly support comprehensive plans.

Most timely, as the health care debate reaches its peak, a majority of Hispanic voters (58 percent) say they favor the proposals being debated in Congress. However, both Republicans and Democrats would be extremely near-sighted to assume that the Democratic preference cannot be swayed by developing political undercurrents.

Hispanic voters do not believe that President Obama shares their top priority. A strong plurality (46 percent) say their top priority is lowering the cost of health care, but a majority (58 percent) believe that President Obama’s top priority is increasing coverage. So while there is support for the proposals in Congress, nearly 6 in 10 Hispanic voters say President Obama’s top priority for the legislation is not the same as their own, a noteworthy disconnect after a year-long debate.

Democrat leaders who seek to silence pro-life Democrats who support the Stupak amendment risk alienating the 55 percent of Hispanic voters who are pro-life. Indeed, 48 percent of Hispanic voters hold this position “strongly.”

Hispanic voters are at odds with two of President Obama’s central tenets on national security: closing the facility at Guantanamo Bay, and providing civilian trials to suspected terrorists. By 62-to-32 percent, these voters believe “holding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay helps protect America by keeping terrorists in custody who would kill Americans overseas.” By 54-to-39 percent, Hispanic voters believe putting suspected 9/11 terrorists on trial in New York City instead of a military court is the wrong policy because it “gives terrorists captured on the battlefield the same rights as American citizens.”

Disenchantment with many of the policies of President Obama and the Democratic Congress has caused Hispanic voters to be more open to persuasion from Republicans. Embracing commonality with Hispanic voters on fiscal and national security issues could reshape the long-term political narrative in a significant way.

Ed Goeas, President and CEO of The Tarrance Group, conducted the survey and serves on Resurgent Republic’s National Survey Research Advisory Board. Leslie Sanchez is author of Los Republicanos: Why Hispanics and Republicans Need Each Other and serves as a Board Member of Resurgent Republic.