December 12th, 2011
For Latinos, Religion And Politics Don’t Mix

Do Latinos see the role of government differently than others?

For all the pundits and strategists who are trying to figure and plot Latino behavior at the polls, I have three simple considerations: manage your expectations; shift your point of view; then have at it again. The truth is this: the Latino view of the role of government is only different than what you expect it to be. So the problem isn’t Latino behavior, the problem is your second-guessing it.

A trio of media companies released the findings of a poll done in early November that focused on religion and social values among Latino voters. ImpreMedia, and it’s news properties La Opinion and El Diario La Prensa joined forces with Latino Decisions (also an Imper property) and found that Latinos are most concerned with jobs, the economy and taxes.

But when it comes to religion and politics, Latinos are at best nonchalant.

Only 23% said their religion has a “big impact,” while 17% said the candidate’s religion has a “small” impact. The only exception is among Latinos who are part of the GOP, since 47% said their religion does have a big impact on their election choices.

If true – one must keep a skeptical distance from a study done by four media and research entities that live under the same roof – and if the GOP decision makers are listening, they may find that they’ve miscalculated the intent behind Latino politics. It’s a conundrum that’s easy to understand, if you’re Latino: politically, we’re just like everyone else, only different.

While the rest of the electorate is obsessing over the pores where religion seeps into politics, most Latinos aren’t. And where the electorate is concerned about the economy and jobs, Latinos are standing shoulder to shoulder with them.  So when the GOP famously says that Latinos are really social conservatives – or as Ronald Reagan said “Hispanics are Republicans. They just don’t know it yet.” – they’re not understanding an important point: it doesn’t really matter.

Yes, Latinos are by and large a social conservative and mostly practicing Christian group. But they don’t take their religion with them to the polls. Republicans can’t keep religion out of their politics, and they think that everyone else is like them. Most Latinos may be turned off by this. A politician is not a priest, or a nun. It seems to me that most Latinos believe that church is where politicians need to go because they’re flawed. If anything, politics sometimes bleeds into the church, but not vice-versa – think of Mexico’s Miguel Hidalgo, or some of the grass-roots political movements of Mexican-American politics that started in church halls (San Antonio’s C.O.P.S. comes to mind).

According to the ImpreMedia poll

the majority (53%) of these citizens said their own religion does not have much influence on which candidate they choose…

Latinos know they’re social conservatives, but they also believe that their religion belongs in the church and that government is the place to go to resolve issues like the economy, and education, and health.

So, GOP thinkers, know that when you advise your candidate to trumpet his or her religion becasue it animates the base, Latinos may be frowning, wincing, or at best bored by it.

Here’s the key, free of cost from me to you: Latinos want to work, they want a level playing field, they want good schools for their children and a way to afford a doctor for their family.  They go to church to light a candle and ask for a good leader, but they don’t look for their leader in the church.

Now, have at it.

[Photo by Howdy, I’m H. Michael Karshis]

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