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September 9, 2013

Conservatives have an opening with Hispanic evangelicals


By now the narrative is well known. President Barack Obama mopped the floor in last year’s presidential election when it came to the Hispanic vote. This matters, of course, because Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic in the United States comprising nearly one out of every three children in today’s kindergarten classroom, and more importantly for our public elected officials, 50,000 Hispanics turn 18 every month.

In light of last year’s dismal results for conservative politicians connecting with the Hispanic electorate, some are suggesting writing off the demographic entirely. This would be a terrible mistake. Besides being incredibly pessimistic about the appeal of the conservative message, this approach fails to consider important opportunities within the Hispanic electorate omitted in the national exit polling numbers.

The first is that only about half of the eligible Hispanic voters actually turned out to vote in last year’s presidential election. In fact, the Hispanic voter turn-out rate was actually lower in 2012 than in the 2008 presidential election. As the Pew Research Center states, by comparison, the 2012 voter turnout rate among blacks was 66.6 and among whites was 64.1, both significantly higher than the turnout rate among Hispanics.

The second is that although President Obama handily won the Catholic Hispanic vote, the Hispanic evangelical vote was likely closer as evidenced by a Pew Research study that found Governor Mitt Romney enjoyed the support of nearly 40 percent of Hispanic evangelicals – as compared to the paltry 20 percent he garnered among Hispanic Catholics.

This same poll spelled out the divide when it comes to the hot-button button issue of same-sex marriage, which found the support of nearly half of all Hispanic Catholics but only 25 percent among Hispanic evangelicals.

Hardly conclusive, but it does provide conservatives empirical data to contextualize the claim that conservatism should appeal to Hispanics “because they are socially conservative.” Perhaps, but as the evidence suggests, this is becoming less and less the case - with the exception of Hispanic evangelicals.

For conservatives this is encouraging, because as the Hispanic evangelical community continues to grow in membership, as recently reported by TIME Magazine, opportunities should present themselves in order to make inroads and build on their current support.

The truth is there is much fodder the Obama administration is providing conservatives in order to make the case that conservatives are fighting to promote the dignity of life and work, and to preserve and protect religious freedom. Despite trying to make various “accommodations” to protect faith-based organizations, the president’s signature legislative achievement (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) will award Planned Parenthood as much as $655,000. This most certainly will strike a nerve with Hispanic evangelicals, but should also alarm other Hispanics who may not be hearing about this, given the liberal bias in Hispanic media.

On top of this, the Obama administration must contend with the sordid reality that the Hispanic unemployment rate and the number of Hispanics living in poverty have both gone up under the president’s watch.

Conservatives should welcome the opportunity to debate on these policy issues and make their case directly to the Hispanic evangelical community while looking at ways to connect with other Hispanics who haven’t felt compelled to participate in the political process.

Clearly, this will take time – but conservatives would be foolish not to pursue opportunities when they present themselves. Pessimism is no way to expand the conservative coalition.

- Israel Ortega is the manager of strategic initiatives and the editor of Heritage Libertad, The Heritage Foundation’s Spanish-language blog.

Originally appeared in One News Now.

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