Contrary to Myth, Far-Right Positions on Wedge Issues Won’t Win over Hispanics

Gary Andres, a conservative columnist for the Washington Times who served both Bush administrations, ruminates on the future of Hispanic voters, and passes along a piece of the Right’s conventional wisdom: that Republicans can pick up the votes of Latinos, who are mainly Catholic, by tacking to the right on social wedge issues. Writes Andres:

A second issue concerns the complicated link between religion, Hispanic political ideology and voting. Many Republican strategists argue Latinos are culturally conservative, and therefore potential supporters. Hispanics are more conservative than non-Hispanics on some social issues, like gay marriage and abortion, according to Pew.

Andres is citing a new report from the Pew Hispanic Center on Hispanics and religion, and indeed, the surveys cited in the report (page 69) find that a narrow majority of Latinos oppose gay marriage (56%) and say abortion should be illegal (57%), as compared to non-Hispanics (42% and 40%, respectively). But those numbers don’t carry over to Election Day results.

As a poll by the Center for American Values in Public Life shows, Hispanics are actually more likely (64%) than the general population (58%) to support granting gay couples the same rights as married couples (page 17). This support is even higher among Hispanic Catholics (74%). These nuances certainly contradict the mythical rule that Latinos are more socially conservative because they are Catholic.

More importantly, while Andres points to the immigration debate is a “mitigating factor,” what he doesn’t mention is that, like most Americans, Latinos do not vote based on gay marriage or abortion. Asked in the summer of 2006 what issue areas were most important in deciding their votes, only 3 percent of Latinos cited gay marriage and abortion – even less than the public as a whole (page 9). And while 11 percent did decide their vote on the issue of immigration, most Latinos cited the economy (24%) and Iraq and national security (26%).

The lesson for Republican strategists hoping to recruit Hispanic voters is that staking out far-right positions on gays and abortion is not going to do the trick.