Opinion: The Political Potential of Evangélicos


By Juhem Navarro-Rivera

In the aftermath of the 2012 election, with exit polls showing Romney capturing only one-in-four Hispanic voters, reaching out to this growing constituency and blunting the current Democratic advantage, is an increasingly important goal for the GOP.

Enter Hispanic evangelical Christians—evangélicos—a group that represents one-in-five, or 20 percent, of Hispanic adults. They are socially conservative and growing, leading to a cover story in Time, exploring this group’s political ramifications for 2016 and beyond.

Like white evangelical Protestants, evangélicos are decidedly conservative on a number of social issues, including abortion and gay marriage. Evangélicos are more than twice as likely as Hispanic Catholics (71 percent vs. 32 percent) to oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. Hispanic Catholics are strongly supportive of same-sex marriage, with nearly 60 percent in favor. On abortion,evangélicos  are more conservative on the issue than Hispanics overall, who remain divided.

Yet despite the evident continuity between the GOP and evangélicos on social issues, there are several reasons to suspect that an alliance might prove more difficult.

First, there is a significant divide between Hispanics and the Tea Party, especially on immigration, economic issues and the role of government. As the recent PRRI/Brookings survey shows, Hispanics, including evangélicos , are extremely supportive of a path to citizenship for current undocumented immigrants. A majority of Hispanics and evangélicos support allowing current undocumented immigrants to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements, compared to a slim majority (53 percent) of Republicans. Members of the Tea Party are among the most opposed; a majority (36 percent) say that undocumented immigrants should be deported or allowed to remain as permanent residents (16 percent).

And it’s not just the immigration issue. There is also a gap between  evangélicos  and the GOP on economic issues. As Gabriel Salguero notes on the Huffington Post, evangélicos also care about “the least of these.”

Evangélicos have the potential to become an important constituency in American politics. Their social conservatism and openness to government solutions to social problems do not make them an obvious fit for either party. However, immigration remains the elephant in the room. How both parties handle this issue will resonate with Hispanics and evangélicos for a long time.

This piece originally appeared on the Public Religion Research Institute’s blog.

(Photo by Assis e Alex via Flickr)