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Are Latino voters truly liberal at heart?

Latino voters at a polling place in Bell, California, November 2010
Latino voters at a polling place in Bell, California, November 2010
Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A short post yesterday highlighted a national poll of Latino registered voters who said by a large majority that they'd rather raise taxes on the wealthy than have government programs eliminated to ease the national debt. So what does that tell us about Latinos politically?

The Latino Decisions polling firm, which conducted the survey along with Spanish-language media publisher impreMedia, posted a paper on its website today with this conclusion as its title: "It's True: Latinos are Liberals, and Other Important Matters."

It's not a conclusion that would go down well with high-ranking Latino conservatives in state and federal office, or for that matter, a good chunk of the older population of Miami. Even out west, where the Mexican American majority skews left, there are many who remain socially conservative. In the 2010 general election, 60 percent of Latinos voted for Democratic candidates in congressional district races; 38 percent voted for Republicans, no small number.

That said, the paper by Gary Segura, a political science professor at Stanford University and Latino Decisions' political director, raises some interesting points about the core political values that Latino voters embrace. Segura builds on how the majority of respondents in yesterday's Latino voter poll frowned on cutting programs and embraced raising taxes. He writes:

...the plurality of respondents preferred a taxes only solution (46%), with another 37% favoring a combination of taxes and spending cuts. The GOP solution—of spending cuts alone—attracts only 8% of all Latino registered voters.

Put another way, 83% of Latino registered voters favored at least some tax increases to close the deficit. Moreover, the pattern was consistent across many sub-populations. Even among Republicans (who represent only about 20% of all registered voters), only 30% favor the cuts-only approach while 57% favor at least some taxation as part of the solution.

This finding, while specific to recent events and an ongoing debate, actually underlines the difficult challenge facing Republicans who wish to grow their Latino vote share. At their core, Latinos are progressives. That is, across a wide array of policy questions, Latinos on average sit significantly to the left of white Americans.

More importantly, when queried about their core beliefs regarding government, its role, size and growth, Latinos (and other minorities) regularly offer views that are left of center and left of Anglos. This finding on their preferences regarding fiscal policy, then, is consistent with a large array of public opinion data.

It's an interesting take. GOP leaders have taken a different tack in their pitch to Latino voters, trying to find common ground on conservative social values. Last month, the Republican State Leadership Committee announced plans to invest $3 million into recruiting a hundred Latino candidates for state legislative seats in 2012.