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 CNS Story:

LATINOS-ELECTION Oct-22-2008 (830 words) xxxn

Before and after election pollsters focus on impact of Latino voters

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Of all the poll decoding that sociologists and political analysts will be doing before and after the Nov. 4 election, one area high on their interest list will be what effect Latino voters had on the outcome.

Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center, said with 50,000 Latinos turning 18 every month, they're gradually forming a more significant percentage of the electorate, up to about 19 percent of the eligible voter population now.

Historically, however, the percentage of eligible Hispanic voters who actually cast ballots is lower than the turnout by non-Hispanic voters in comparison to what percentage of the electorate they make up, he said.

Lopez is among analysts who think that could change this year. Get-out-the-vote drives in Hispanic communities and frustration over the failure of Congress to pass an immigration bill are among the motivating factors that suggest more Latinos may vote this year.

"If the primaries are any indication, there will be a lot more participation," Lopez said.

A survey of Hispanic voters by the Pew Hispanic Center found 94 percent said they plan to vote this year, he said. Pew and other polling organizations have found that immigration is just one of the issues of interest to Latino voters, however, with the economy and the Iraq War at the top of people's agendas.

One factor that could have a diminishing effect on Latino turnout nationwide is that the presidential race is not expected to be close in the two states -- California and Texas -- which account for about half of all Hispanic voters, Lopez said.

The sense that California's electoral votes will easily go to Democratic Sen. Barack Obama while those of Texas will go to Republican Sen. John McCain could have a dampening effect on turnout there, he said.

The presidential campaigns are not advertising as much in either state and voter-turnout efforts are not likely to be as strong, he explained.

States likely to see more of an impact by Latino voters this election include Nevada, where Hispanics make up 12 percent of eligible voters, up from less than 8 percent in the early 1990s, according to Lopez.

He said Florida also is of interest because its traditionally Cuban-American voters now are being matched in almost equal numbers by Puerto Ricans and Mexican or Central American immigrants. Cuban-Americans traditionally vote strongly Republican, but that's not the case with Latinos from other parts of the world, he explained.

Another factor in all this is the connection between charismatic and evangelical Latinos and how they vote -- something analyzed earlier this year in a Pew Hispanic survey.

Evangelical Latinos, who make up about a third of the Hispanic population, are expected to shift their votes from their 2004 support of President George W. Bush to back Obama this year, according to polls.

Norma Velasco and Francisco Espinoza, two charismatic Catholics from Chicago who typify the religious and political dualities at play within the charismatic movement, believe that charismatic Latinos are reluctant to give themselves over to political parties.

Velasco and Espinoza host private prayer groups at their homes for fellow charismatic Catholics, during which, they said, they sometimes speak in tongues.

Velasco said political differences tend to arise between newcomers and Latinos who have spent considerable time living in the U.S.

"The people that recently came from other countries, they are a little bit more concerned with moral questions, like abortion and the gay thing, and defending the country," she said in an interview with Catholic News Service. "But people who have been living here, undocumented people, they are more concerned with social issues."

As for charismatics as a whole, she said, they are concerned about "the two big realms of issues: the moral ones and the social ones. But I think that now they are a little more into the social," she said.

This does not overshadow charismatics' cultural conservatism, added Espinoza, who with Velasco prioritizes "moral" issues over "social" ones.

"Perhaps I'm wrong," he said, "but what I think is that charismatics are really conservative. Really conservative."

Velasco and Espinoza said charismatics, prefer to concern themselves with issues, not politics.

Meanwhile, experts who study the charismatic movement say they are baffled that those involved in the political world do not see charismatic Catholic Latinos as an identifiable group that could have an impact on the elections.

Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, said the reason for that may be that political differences among Latinos are seen as being between Catholics and evangelicals, with the charismatic element of Catholicism regarded as more of a trend than a defined religious group. As a result, whether or not a Latino is charismatic falls by the wayside, he said.

"People have a hard time getting their mind around" the lack of political attention paid to charismatic Latino Catholics, Lugo said. "In terms of getting inside more than a half of the Latino community it's been under-covered."

- - -

Contributing to this story were Patricia Zapor and Vinnie Rotondaro.


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