Hispanic evangelicals – swing vote in battleground faith?
Their possible role in the outcome of the Nov. 4 contest between Democratic candidate Barack Obama and Republican John McCain will be the focus of a conference in Vanguard, California, Thursday and Friday organized by the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC).
Religion plays a big role in American politics, and the evangelical community, which accounts for about one in four U.S. adults, is regarded as a key “battleground faith.”
U.S. President George W. Bush made significant in-roads into the Latino vote in 2004, garnering about 40 percent of it by some estimates, thanks in part to the support of Hispanic evangelicals.
Latino numbers in the United States are put at about 45 million, or 15 percent of the population. But many are not citizens and they not tend to vote in energetic numbers.
One estimate last year by the Pew Hispanic Center found that, based on past trends, they would probably only comprise about 6.5 percent of the overall turnout this year.
And of the 45 million U.S. Latinos, only about a third are believed to be evangelical (an estimate that includes some charismatic Catholics).
But NHCLC President Samuel Rodriguez told me that their numbers are concentrated in key swing states that could go either way in November like Colorado, New Mexico and Florida.
So in a close election they could be a key vote in both battleground states and battleground faiths.
“Hispanic evangelicals are the quintessential moderates and centrists. They are committed to a prolife agenda and preserving traditional marriage. But they are also committed to tackling global warming and other social justice issues such as poverty and immigration reform,” Rodriguez said.
That puts them in line with the emerging evangelical centrist movement, which is seeking a broader agenda that includes but moves beyond abortion and gay rights issues. It also mirrors Catholic social teaching (a tradition which many Hispanic evangelicals would have grown up in).
This outlook provides windows of opportunity for both candidates.
McCain can appeal to this crowd with his opposition to abortion rights and talk of action on climate change, though the hardening of his views on immigration reform are probably not a winner here.
Obama, on the other hand, talks easily about issues of faith and poverty and his own personal spirituality.
It all makes for an interesting group to watch over the next three months.
The conference is called “Hispanic Evangelicals and the 2008 Elections.”
(Photo Credit: Reuters, Shannon Stapleton, April 16, USA)