When it comes to social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, Latinos hold a mix of liberal and conservative views, according to an exclusive Fox News Latino poll.
Nearly half, or 47 percent, of almost 900 randomly selected likely Latino voters polled nationwide said they believe gays and lesbians should be allowed to legally get married. Twenty-five percent support allowing a legal union, but not marriage, and 21 percent said they oppose any legal recognition for same-sex couples.
On the issue of abortion, respondents expressed less liberal views. Forty-seven percent said they oppose abortion – 37 percent said they strongly oppose it, 10 percent said they “somewhat” oppose it. Forty-five percent say they are “somewhat” or “strongly” pro-choice (30 percent chose “strongly,” 15 percent chose “somewhat”).
Political experts say Latinos mirror the changes in attitude toward gay and lesbian issues that have occurred over the decades in the general population.
“Gay advocates have been very successful in showing gay marriage as something that strengthens the family rather than destroys the family,” said Luis Desipio, a political science professor and expert on Latino issues at the University of California-Irvine. “They’ve showed gay marriage as reaffirming family values, which is something that Latinos are close to.”
But where abortion is concerned, Latinos – who overwhelmingly are Catholic or, increasingly, evangelical – are influenced by their religion and faith leaders, Desipio said.
“The biblical scriptures are against abortion, stronger than gay marriage,” he said. “The church has spoken with one voice on abortion.”
But these social issues will not play a major role as far as whom Latinos select to be the 45th President of the United States, the poll indicates.
Indeed, social topics such gay marriage and abortion was ranked fourth among the issues that the respondents said would be most important in their decision on whom to select for president. Social issues was cited as most important by 8 percent of the respondents, coming behind education, which was picked by 11 percent of respondents, healthcare, selected by 14 percent, and at the top was the economy and jobs, cited by a far larger 48 percent.
What’s more, when asked which presidential candidate would best encourage the values they believe in, 62 percent chose President Obama – slightly more than twice the percentage (30) who chose his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.
That indicates that a Republican push to appeal to Latino voters by casting themselves as the party that best reflects their values -- family and faith and traditional social views -- has not swayed them in any significant way.
“Though they may hold social conservative positions, the vote is driven by economic decisions,” Desipio said. “That is the long-term benefit that Democratic candidates and the Democratic Party have had with the Latino community.”
He said historically, Democrats have spoken more to the kind of economic issues that Latinos care about.
"Romney and [John] McCain could speak in broad terms about small business,"Desipio said. "But often in the same speech they talk about not wanting stimulus programs" that many Latinos support.
"Latinos benefit from government programs to build bridges, new schools," he said. "These programs put more people to work."
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez , president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, describes it as horizontal vs. vertical values among Latino voters.
Most people tend to shape their voting decision based on the day-to-day factors of financial wellbeing, education, and healthcare – what he says are the more immediate “horizontal” matters.
And while Republicans and the Romney campaign have been hammering away at the ailing economy as a failure of the Obama presidency, a majority of them still plan to vote for Obama in November, according to the Fox News Latino poll.
Sixty percent of those surveyed said they would vote for the ticket of Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden, while only 30 percent would cast their ballot for Romney and running mate U.S. Sen. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the poll found.
“The horizontal values are: 'Do you have the financial wherewithal to pay your mortgage? The poverty – the poverty rate in the Latino community is egregious,” said Rivera, who gave the opening night benediction at the Republican National Convention in August. “The bursting housing bubble impacted our community more than other communities. We’re suffering economic hardship more than the rest of America.”
“So are we thinking economy when we’re deciding for whom to vote? Yes,” he said, adding that Latinos who are truly on the fence about both candidates may then look to the “vertical values” of social issues to make their decision.
In general, though, Latino faith leaders say that while Latino voters may hold certain views rooted in their religion, they generally do not want religion mixed with politics.
“Our definition of marriage, that it’s between a man and a woman, is an extension of our faith,” Rivera said. At the same time, he noted, “we are not homophobic. Many of us may not want [laws] redefining marriage, so we would want another term.”
One major variable affecting Latino support for candidates in this election, those in both parties say, has been the tenor of discussions on immigration.
The hardline rhetoric on immigration, said Linda Vega, founder of Latinos Ready to Vote, a conservative group, has made many Latinos leery of Republicans.
“Latinos are human,” said Vega, who is an immigration attorney in Texas. “We listen to the rhetoric, we want it addressed respectfully.”
The poll was conducted between the 11th and 13th of September among a random sample of 887 likely Latino voters across the country. The margin of sampling error is three percentage points.
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente