Despierta! Hispanic Evangelicals and Political Ping-Pong

Aida Castillo places a sticker on her blouse indicating that she had voted during the early voting period, Saturday, Oct. 20,
Aida Castillo places a sticker on her blouse indicating that she had voted during the early voting period, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, in Las Vegas. In the heavily-Hispanic neighborhoods of Las Vegas, unemployment is high and home values are down. But President Barack Obama's immigration stand has locked in support from a fast-growing demographic group that has been trending sharply Democratic in the wake of increasingly hard-line Republican positions on immigration. Part of the reason is his executive order that allows people brought into the country illegally as children to avoid deportation if they graduate high school or join the military. The president's campaign is counting on Hispanics providing the margin of victory not just in Nevada, but in other swing states such as Colorado, Iowa, Virginia and North Carolina. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Recently, in an interview, I reiterated what I've been saying for years: Hispanic evangelicals are the quintessential swing voters. If Pew's research is correct, the approximate 7.5 million Latino evangelicals are an electorate that is not easily tied to any political party. Pew says that close to 50 percent of Latino evangelicals plan to vote for President Obama, while 39 percent favor Governor Romney. It is not surprising that in 2004 the Latino evangelical vote was carried by President George W. Bush and in 2008 a majority voted for President Obama.

Given that Hispanic evangelicals are not one-issue voters, what about 2012? Which way will we go?

Much of this shift can be attributed to the policy hybridism of many Latino evangelicals. We are overwhelmingly social conservatives while favoring policies that support poverty alleviation, immigration reform and educational equity. In short, we can't be easily pigeon-holed. Moreover, we do not have a centralized leadership that speaks for all 7.5 million of our members. The challenge in 2012 for both major candidates and parties is finding a way to encourage this important demographic to come out on Nov. 6. The challenge for Hispanic evangelicals is to read beyond political pandering and to read the entire platforms of candidates to see what they will really enact.

On the major social issues, the vast majority of Hispanic evangelicals hold a pro-life and traditional marriage perspective. While conservatives overwhelmingly find affinity with Hispanic evangelicals on these issues it is also true that almost every candidate since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, has made this a political football. The truth is that while the campaign rhetoric has intended to garner the Hispanic evangelical vote, the candidates have not made federal policy changes on a whole host of life issues. Hispanic evangelicals are astute enough to know that this is often a political football that is discarded once elections are over. In 2012, we are not asking about campaign demagoguery, but about the realpolitik. What will be done by both parties on life issues? Is our nation going to get serious about a consistent ethic of life? This means adult conversations on abortion, maternal and child healthcare, the death penalty and environmental health. Let's move beyond scoring political points and getting to the core issues. Latino evangelicals are listening.

On the major issue of immigration reform we have worked with the Evangelical Immigration Table to move bi-partisan legislation. Four years ago, there was strong bi-partisan support for fair and comprehensive immigration reform. Champions for this legislation included Republicans and Democrats. President Bush, Senators McCain and Kennedy tried hard to garner support for a law that respected the rule of law and provided an earned-path to citizenship. President Obama promised to pass immigration reform in his first term. All of that has gone the way of political standoffs and ping-pong. The Dream Act lost a narrow vote and deportations were at an all time high. Hispanic evangelicals have recently seen legislation in Arizona and Alabama that has alienated many of us. While the DHS Deferred Action decision has temporarily revived the hopes of close to 1 million young people, we need more. Immigration reform is a family-values and moral issue and we need bi-partisan action now. We don't just want political ads in Spanish, we want legislation that shows real commitment. Inaction on legislation is not an option.

On the issues of poverty alleviation and educational equity, the Hispanic electorate has been very clear. What legislation will clearly protect the "least of these"? Our National Latino Evangelical Coalition is a signer of the Circle of Protection. Both President Obama and Governor Romney have responded to our call to lay out a vision for how they will respond to the issues of poverty at home and abroad. The nation's domestic budget and foreign aid commitments will be a marker for us to measure what this means. Latinos are disproportionately challenged by poverty, urban ecological challenges and educational disparity. In addition, our concerns with a disproportionate number poor Latinos living near power plants can't be ignored. We are looking for platforms that speak to these issues head-on. What political muscle will candidates leverage to ensure that "the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger" are cared for in the richest nation in the world? Our commitment to the Gospel requires us to ask this of the candidates.

My response to the recent Pew research on Latino Catholics and evangelicals is that they are absolutely correct. Hispanic evangelicals are multi-issue voters who seek the whole counsel of biblical wisdom and are looking at the candidates' full agenda. We are not a politically naïve electorate that will be one-issue voters. My advice to the candidates, from city council to presidential candidates, is to move to an agenda that addresses the full gamut of these concerns. The health of the nation requires in-depth conversations on major intractable challenges and Latino evangelicals are contributing and would love to continue to do so.

Latino-American Religious Leaders