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THE MIAMI HERALD
Many Hispanic Voters Skeptical On Bush's Promise
By ANDRES OPPENHEIMER
June 19, 2003
Good news for Latin American countries that feel neglected by the Bush administration: A new poll shows that 69 percent of U.S. Hispanic voters believe that the president has not kept his promise to make Latin America one of his top foreign policy priorities.
The poll, conducted by Bendixen & Associates for the New Democrat Network, a group of centrist Democratic Party political hopefuls, was released on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. On Wednesday, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that the nation's 38.8 million Hispanics have officially become the nation's largest minority group, followed by the 38.3 million U.S. blacks.
All of this is big news, among other things because Hispanic voters will amount to about 8 percent of the overall U.S. voters in next year's presidential election, and more than 10 percent in key states such as California, Texas and Florida. And in a country where the last election was decided by less than 1 percent of the vote, Hispanics could make or break President Bush's reelection hopes.
Pollsters agree that Latin America is not likely to be a major issue in the 2004 campaign. But the perception that Bush has not delivered on his Latin America promises may hurt his credibility among Hispanic voters, and could sway key votes, they say.
''During the last campaign, Spanish-language media heavily publicized Bush's commitment to Latin America, and during his first two years in office they gave extremely positive coverage to his relationship with [Mexican President] Vicente Fox,'' says Sergio Bendixen, president of Bendixen and Associates.
''But over the past year, Bush has hurt his credibility on two issues that Latino voters pay attention to: immigration, and Latin America,'' Bendixen says.
Among the key findings of the Bendixen poll of 800 Hispanic voters, with a margin of error of 3.5 percent:
Granted, Bush remains popular among Hispanics, even if most of them say they would vote Democratic.
Bush's approval rating among Hispanics is 64 percent, slightly below Bush's 69 percent approval rating among non-Hispanic white Americans, and way over his 50 percent approval among black Americans, according to a recent Zogby International poll.
And foreign affairs is not among the issues ranked by Hispanic voters as the ones they care the most about. When asked to rank the top two issues they most care about, Hispanic voters cite the economy, jobs, education, health care and Social Security. In the Bendixen poll, only 5 percent marked foreign policy among the two most important issues that will determine their vote.
But Bendixen says Latin America will play an important role among Hispanic voters in coming elections.
It's an issue that can sway votes, he says: While the overall number of Hispanics who plan to vote for Bush is 34 percent, the number declines by 10 percentage points among those who feel Bush has neglected Latin America.
Zogby International head John Zogby, who has done polls on Hispanic voters for the Republican Party, agrees that if the Democrats play the Latin America card, it could potentially hurt Bush.
''In the context of a broader campaign by the Democrats, if it can be packaged as part of a [Bush] policy of fewer jobs, little progress on health care, lack of commitment to schools, and ignoring Latin America, it could matter,'' Zogby told me. ``Remember, given the close elections we're having nationally, we are not talking about moving tens of millions of voters in one direction or another. Moving a few thousand voters can decide an election.''
My conclusion: Much like Jewish Americans, Arab Americans and Cuban Americans, Hispanic Americans in general may increasingly influence Washington's policy toward Latin America. It's not happening yet, except for a few isolated cases, but it may happen sooner than we think.