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Gun Control Tops Latino Concerns
Survey also details views on education and abortion

By Douglas Haberman

April 13, 2002
Copyright © 2002
LA TIMES. All Rights Reserved.

Latino voters favor gun-control measures by a wide margin and hold other views that show them largely aligned with the Democratic Party on domestic policy issues, a survey recently released by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute found.

Gun control was a more important issue to the Latino voters surveyed than abortion or school vouchers, said Harry Pachon, president of the institute, which is at Claremont Graduate University and is also affiliated with Columbia University.

"It makes sense," he said. "Where are crimes committed? They're committed in the ghettos and the barrios." The institute conducted a telephone survey of 2,011 Latino registered voters in five states -- California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas -- in October 2000.

"It's the real voters and what they think," Pachon said. The institute undertook the survey "to get an accurate barometer of what the community thinks," which can be used in place of conjecture by pundits, he said.

Of the Latino voters surveyed, 64.7% favored gun-control legislation. But only 29.1% backed school vouchers. Both of those findings put them in the Democratic camp.

On abortion, however, the Latino voters were more like Republicans: Just 37.8% supported abortion rights. But a large group of Latinos isn't so much against abortion as uncertain or riding the fence on the issue, Pachon said.

"The fact they are Catholic doesn't mean they are pro-life the way Republicans would like to think they are," said Rodolfo de la Garza, a political science professor at Columbia University, who helped oversee the survey. He is the institute's vice president of research and presented the findings Friday in Washington, D.C., at a conference organized by the Campaign for America's Future, a labor-backed liberal group.

Education was the top public policy issue among those surveyed. But the lower the voters' income, the less they saw education as an important issue, which De la Garza said was troubling.

The survey's findings were generally consistent across regions and Latino groups, Pachon and De la Garza said.

"I think the first thing that stands out is the extent to which, on many issues, Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans agree," De la Garza said.

Cubans are most conservative on foreign policy, which wasn't the subject of the survey, De la Garza said. Latinos of Puerto Rican and Mexican ancestry tend to vote Democratic while Cubans still vote predominantly Republican, but Cubans' significance as a national political force is declining, he said.

Republican Assemblyman Bob Pacheco of Walnut said the survey findings coincide with findings of other surveys he's seen of East Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley Latinos.

"On the social issues, Latinos tend to be more liberal in their thinking," he said.

The GOP needs to craft its messages better to win over more Latino voters, Pacheco said. Because many Latinos are raised with the Catholic message of helping the poor, Republicans would attract them more if they framed an issue like welfare reform, for example, not as a program ending costly taxpayer support for unemployed people but as a program that helps people find jobs, he said.

"We tend to take a hard-nosed approach to issues like that and don't think of the implications," said Pacheco, chair of the four-member Republican Latino Caucus in the Assembly.

Many Republicans talk about educating Latinos about their party, he said, but "we have a poor approach to educating Republicans about Latinos."

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