LOS ANGELES - An opinion poll of Latino voters in the United States revealed a high level of economic anxiety in the community, a disconnect in the economic decisions made by the Obama administration, and the highest level of concern ever seen about the current immigration policy.
The poll, the first one in a series to be conducted jointly by impreMedia and Latino Decisions (LD) over the next twelve months, explores the situation of the Latino group most integrated into American society: voters, whether born here or naturalized citizens.
Araceli Ceja is one of those citizens, currently unemployed, who fears for her family’s future. "The truth is I voted for Obama and I still have faith that he can change things," said Ceja during an interview at the local unemployment office, where she was waiting for some paperwork. "But I have been unemployed for a year, filled out more than 100 job applications and have not gotten anywhere. No one is hiring."
Ceja may reflect a reality that, although serious for the entire country, has hit Latinos and African-Americans the hardest. Despite a recent decrease in the overall and Latino unemployment rates, Latinos still have higher unemployment than the majority: 12.6% versus 8.7% for the white population.
Middle-class Latinos and those who are more integrated into society are also feeling the insecurity of the recession, even though it appears that an economic recovery has started. The problem is that the recovery has not reached all parts of society.
This is why the results of a Latino voter poll are even more important than a poll of the Latino population as a whole, according to Matt Barreto, a political science professor at the University of Washington and pollster for LD.
"Here we see that the economy is having a very significant effect on the Latino community, and we are referring to a group of Latinos that is more integrated into the country’s economic and political life, usually a more stable group than the newly arrived," said Barreto. "This is a number I did not expect to be so high."
The poll also found that the status quo of American immigration policy and its lack of reform has become the top concern for Latinos. Immigration is the number one concern, surpassing even concern about the economy, despite its considerable insecurity.
Of important issues now before the president and Congress, 47% of Latino voters consider immigration or a lack of immigration reform most important. The second most important issue to Latino voters (43%) is the creation of jobs and the economy in general. And third and last (20%) is education, which used to be a main priority for this community."Immigration is a very important issue for Latinos, and last fall it was in second place after the economy," said Gary Segura, a political science professor at Stanford University and also an advisor for LD. "The community saw how the DREAM Act failed and new Arizona-style local laws. The issue has become a serious concern."
Immigration is not such an important issue for the rest of the population. A recent CNN poll found that only 7% of Americans consider it a priority, and the question referred to "illegal immigration."
Poll results are very significant regarding the economy, revealing anxiety about the immediate future among Latinos. This is despite President Obama’s recent State of the Union address, where he declared that the economy is improving, and recent reports that indicate a decrease in the unemployment rate.
Of those polled, 66% are worried about their family’s employment situation and possible unemployment during the next year. Another question revealed that 51% have had problems "many times" during the last year paying their family’s bills, while 9% have had that problem "once."
In addition to a feeling of insecurity, a significant number of Latinos, even those who have not personally experienced problems, feel that their interests are not usually reflected when decisions are made in Washington. Of those surveyed, 43% said very little attention is paid to their economic needs. Only 11% said that there is much attention, and 38% said there is some attention.
Fernando Gomez, like many other homeowners, can understand those concerns because he is having a hard time paying his home mortgage now that one of his household’s two salaries is gone. His wife Rosa lost her job six months ago and since then, they have had problems paying their bills.
"We have had to cut several extras like cable, eating out with the kids," said Gomez during a phone interview from Dallas, Texas. "I really do not see an end to this recession."
Even so, Latinos continue trusting Obama and the Democrats (64%) more than the Republicans (20%) to resolve the country’s economic woes, although they differ with the White House about some solutions. For example, they are more in agreement on the need for investing instead of lowering taxes, and when it comes to tax cuts, they prefer that the richest not be included (50% prefer the richest not be included).
Support for measures like the DREAM Act, which were unsuccessful in the last Congress despite the Obama administration’s promises, continues being very high within this group of voters. The poll revealed that 85% back this measure and only 9% are against it. This failure and the lack of immigration reform have made Latinos worry more about this issue, which is surpassing other issues of interest.
A poll of 500 Latino voters was conducted in January and February 2011 in 21 states where 95% of registered Latino voters live. It has a margin of error of +/-4.38%. Latino Decisions began conducting the polls in August 2010 and will continue doing them with Impremedia during the next 12 months, tracking Latino voters. This is the first continuous tracking poll and until now the only one among polls of Latinos in the United States.
Experts interpret results
The growing concern of the most integrated Latino population (naturalized citizens and those born here) regarding immigration policy is a sign that tough rhetoric and anti-immigrant measures are not just affecting the undocumented and are turning into a real problem for the entire community, according to experts.
The Impremedia-LD poll reveals a high level of concern among Latino voters regarding immigration: 47% think it is the first issue the government should address. This interest increases to 54% among naturalized citizens.
"Latino voters perceive an attack against immigrants as an attack against Latinos, and they also feel that some of the measures implemented will not only affect the undocumented, but also even second- and third-generation citizens, especially police measures," said Gabriel Sanchez, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico.
Kevin Johnson, professor of chicano/a studies at UC Davis, said that for at least 10 years voters have been asked for support in return for promises about immigration. "And what we have seen are more deportations, more detentions and more police solutions," said Johnson.
However, Louis De Sipio, a professor at UC Irvine, indicated that the recent debate over the DREAM Act is what catalyzed the interest of Latinos. "The issue is very fresh in the minds. This measure was thought to be the most achievable one and nevertheless it was not accomplished," said De Sipio.
The economic anxiety the community feels has a simple explanation. This community has been affected the most by unemployment, the mortgage crisis, bad loans and lack of access to credit for small businesses from the banks, as the experts point out.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center showed that the home foreclosure rate is higher in cities and towns with a higher percentage of Latinos and African-Americans. That same study indicated that 50% of subprime loans that subsequently failed were granted to those two groups.
A certain disconnect between Washington and ordinary Latinos also stands out.
"We are talking about 43% of Latino voters who feel that Washington is not paying much attention to their problems. The economy is a priority, but many expect to hear something different from the political leadership," said Matt Barreto, a political scientist from the University of Washington and pollster for LD.
"One of the two, either this is true and Latinos are not being asked, or there is no effective communication between Washington and Latinos about their needs and how the economy is affecting them," added Barreto.