July 24, 2008

2008 National Survey of Latinos: Hispanic Voter Attitudes

III. 2008 Candidate Preference and Demographics

Support for Obama is strong across all demographic groups of Hispanic registered voters, with few significant differences by gender, age, education, income or immigrant status.

Religion is the only major demographic category in which there are significantly different levels of support among Hispanics. Among Latino registered voters who identify with a religion, McCain’s support is greater with those who are not Catholic than with Hispanic registered voters who are Catholic—33% versus 17%. Obama’s support is greater with Hispanic registered voters who are Catholic than with those who are not Catholic—71% versus 59%.

Latino Catholics are 56% of all Hispanic registered voters. Latino registered voters who identify with a religion, but who are not Catholic, make up 33% of all Latino registered voters. Native-born U.S. citizens (65%) and naturalized citizens (68%) show similar levels of support for Obama.

Across national origin groups, some differences in support for Obama over McCain may be observed. However, none of these differences in support for Obama or McCain among Hispanic registered voters are statistically significant. This is due largely to the small sample sizes for the non-Mexican origin groups among our registered voter sample. Those of Mexican origin represent 55% of our registered voter sample, Puerto Ricans represent 14%, Cubans represent 5%, and those of Other origin represent 24%.

Finally, Obama’s support among Hispanic registered voters who preferred to be interviewed in Spanish for this survey is not very different than among those who preferred to be interviewed in English—71% compared with 64%. Overall, 73% of Hispanic registered voters preferred to be interviewed in English and 27% preferred to be interviewed in Spanish.4

Candidate Preference and Race

The candidacy of Barack Obama has raised the issue of whether the country is ready for a black president as well as whether Hispanics are ready for a black president. During the Democratic primaries, many wondered whether Latinos’ strong preference for Clinton over Obama was somehow related to the candidates’ races.5 However, a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of exit polls from the Super Tuesday Democratic primaries on Feb. 5 found that there was no difference in support for Hillary Clinton among Hispanic voters who said the candidate’s race was important in deciding their vote (64%) and those who said that the candidate’s race was not important in deciding their vote (63%). Similarly, there was no difference in support for Obama among Hispanics who said race was important (35%) and those who said race was not important (35%).

In this new survey, nearly a third (32%) of Hispanic registered voters say they believe that being black will help Obama with Hispanic voters in the general election, while about one-in-ten (11%) say they believe his race will hurt him. A majority (53%) say they do not believe that Obama’s race will make a difference to Hispanic voters.

When a parallel question was posed about the impact of McCain’s race, the results were reversed. More respondents (24%) say they believe that being white will hurt McCain with Hispanic voters than say they believe it will help him (12%). Here again, however, the majority (58%) say they believe that McCain’s race will make no difference.

By heavy margins, respondents say that the race of the candidates will not influence their own personal vote—72% said Obama’s race will not make a difference in their deciding how to vote and 82% said the same about McCain’s race. However, 19% said that in deciding their own vote, Obama’s race will help him while just 6% said it will hurt him. As for McCain, 8% said his race will hurt him and just 7% said it will help him.

Latino registered voters ages 18 to 29 (46%) are more likely than those ages 40 and older (26%) to say that Obama’s race will help him with Hispanic voters. Hispanics ages 55 and older are more likely than Hispanics 18 to 29 to believe that Obama’s race will not make a difference to Hispanic voters—61% versus 40%. There are no other large differences within other demographic categories on the importance of the race of the candidates for Hispanic voters.

Campaign Issues

Family and pocketbook issues, such as education (93%), the cost of living (92%), jobs (91%) and health care (90%), are extremely important or very important to Hispanic registered voters. Fewer Hispanics say that crime (82%), the war in Iraq (75%) or immigration (75%) is an extremely important or very important issue to them personally.

By a ratio of more than three-to-one, Hispanic registered voters believe that Obama would do a better job than McCain in dealing with education (66% versus 18%), jobs (65% versus 19%), the cost of living (64% versus 19%), health care (64% versus 19%) and immigration (59% versus 19%). They also believe, by a margin of about two-to-one, that Obama would do a better job than McCain on crime (50% versus 26%) and the war in Iraq (58% versus 27%).

  1. For the full, nationally representative sample of Hispanics, 50% preferred to be interviewed in English and 50% in Spanish. Among the native born in the full sample, 86% preferred English and 14% preferred Spanish. For the foreign born in the sample, 25% preferred to be interviewed in English and 75% preferred Spanish.
  2. See, for example, Arrillaga, Pauline, “Can Black Candidate Woo Hispanics?” Associated Press (Feb. 10, 2008); Reno, Jaime, “Black-Brown Divide,” Newsweek (Jan. 26, 2008); Nagourney, Adam and Jennifer Steinhauer, “In Obama’s Pursuit of Latinos, Race Plays Role,” The New York Times (Jan. 15, 2008).