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Commentary: Poll is reality check on Latino vote

  • Story Highlights
  • Texas A&M/Latino Decisions survey interviewed 500 Latino registered voters
  • Texas' Latinos are against border fence and continuation of Iraq war, poll found
  • Survey says both Clinton, Obama have high rates of support among Latinos
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By Matt A. Barreto and Sylvia Manzano
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Recent commentary and analysis by pundits on the Latino vote has been long on opinion and short on reality. As the presidential primary election moves to Texas, Latino voters find themselves in the spotlight.

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Latino voters line up to cast their ballots in this year's primaries.

Latinos are estimated to be one-third of the Democratic electorate on March 4, and they may represent the key to victory in the Lone Star State.

It's time to cut through the spin and sort out the facts.

What are the most important issues to the Latino electorate in 2008? On Tuesday, we released a study that sheds light on the political and policy attitudes of Texas Latino voters. The Texas A&M/Latino Decisions nonpartisan survey interviewed 500 Latino registered voters.

Immigration

Texas' Latino voters do not support a border fence.

Despite the conventional wisdom among many commentators, the data couldn't be clearer. Our poll finds that 73 percent of Texas Latinos think a wall along the Texas-Mexico border is an ineffective policy idea that will not decrease illegal immigration into the United States.

On this issue, the survey finds agreement across party lines. Among Republicans, 70 percent are opposed to the border fence, as are 72 percent of independents and 74 percent of Democrats.

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Constructing 70 miles of barrier along the Rio Grande Valley, a region that is more than 80 percent Mexican-American, has become a hotly contested issue. Homeowners face eminent domain lawsuits by the Department of Homeland Security, environmentalists argue that it is detrimental to the region, and the business community has been vocal about the impact on the economy.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Eddie Aldrete, senior vice president of IBC Bank, characterized the border wall idea as "a knee-jerk reaction by Congress. No one really studied the economic impacts, the environmental impacts." IBC Bank, which is the state's largest holding company and is headquartered in the border city of Laredo, is a Latino-owned business.

This month, Republican Gov. Rick Perry told the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that a wall along the border would not solve the illegal immigration problem. Indeed, a prominent Latino Republican adviser, Lionel Sosa, has repeatedly stated that if the party does not change its rhetoric on immigration, it will lose the Latino vote.

Rather than construct a wall, 63 percent of Latinos in Texas support a pathway to citizenship as a means of addressing illegal immigration.

Iraq

In terms of foreign policy, there is no issue more important to Latinos in Texas, or the rest of the country, than the Iraq war.

For more than one-third of Latinos in the state, the war is not just a political issue but rather one that can have a direct impact on daily life. In fact, 37 percent have a close relative on active military duty. Twenty percent ranked it the most important issue in this election, the highest mark for any foreign policy issue in our survey.

Latinos overwhelmingly favor an end to the war. Although Republican White House hopeful John McCain has argued against a troop withdrawal, 81 percent of Latinos in Texas support it.

When asked to consider the costs versus the benefits, 70 percent of Latinos were dissatisfied with the current status of the Iraq war. At the same time, a landmark public opinion poll, the Latino National Political Survey, found that 91 percent of Mexican-Americans were very or extremely proud of the U.S., and they have one of the highest participation rates in the U.S. military.

Education

On education, an overwhelming majority -- 76 percent -- supports the DREAM Act to grant in-state college tuition to undocumented students who grew up in Texas and graduated from Texas high schools. Further, the survey finds that 78 percent support bilingual education programs to assist students in public schools. Democratic candidates have supported these two plans, and Republicans have opposed them.

Opinions of Obama, Clinton

Some pundits claim that the Democratic candidates, particularly Barack Obama, have not made a real connection with Latino voters, but the data suggest that Latino voters are supportive of both Hillary Clinton and Obama.

Among all Latino voters, 76 percent have a favorable view of Clinton, and 66 percent have a favorable view of Obama, compared with 48 percent for McCain.

Further, President Bush is viewed favorably by just 34 percent of Latinos in his home state of Texas.

Over the past month, Clinton and Obama have campaigned for the Latino vote from New York to California, and now in Texas. Both have spent extensive time in smaller border communities and large urban areas alike, and both have appealed to Latino voters in English and Spanish ads on television and radio.

In contrast, the Republican candidates have ignored the Latino vote during the primaries, focusing instead on harsh rhetoric in the immigration debate. In the words of Republican adviser Lionel Sosa, they are "fighting to see who is more anti-immigration."

As the general election campaign unfolds, much will be written about the Latino vote, and we hope the debate and analysis centers on facts and reality as opposed to mere spin.

Latino Decisions interviewed 500 Latino registered voters in the state of Texas between February 18 and 24. The survey was available in English and Spanish, and all interviews were conducted by bilingual interviewers. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

This is the third such survey in a series of state-by-state polls of Latino registered voters, following Nevada and California.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writers.

Matt A. Barreto (mbarreto@u.washington.edu) is assistant professor of political science at the University of Washington, Seattle, and Sylvia Manzano (smanzano@politics.tamu.edu) is assistant professor of political science at Texas A&M University. Professors Barreto and Manzano are co-investigators of the recent Texas A&M/Latino Decisions public opinion survey of Latino voters in Texas and have conducted numerous nonpartisan academic surveys of Latino voters. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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