Researchers Find Ongoing Changes in Latino Religious Affiliation May Be to the Detriment of the Democratic Party

Release Date: October 5, 2004 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A new study of Latino religion and politics has found that Latinos are much more diverse religiously and politically than previously thought, a fact that has important implications for the future of American politics.

In the study "Religion and Latino Partisanship in the United States," to be published in an upcoming issue of Political Research Quarterly, political scientists report that the growing number of non-Catholics among Latinos is likely to continue to moderate the advantage this increasingly important group has offered to the Democratic Party.

The study, which examined the interplay between religion, ethnicity and partisanship of Latinos in the United States, was conducted by Nathan J. Kelly, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science at the University at Buffalo, and Jana Morgan Kelly, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Using pooled data from the 1990-2000 National Election Studies, Kelly and Kelly assessed denominational affiliation and religious commitment as explanations of political partisanship among a subgroup of Latinos living in the United States that included Cubans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and others.

"We found two important patterns among Latinos that are central to the future of American politics," says Nathan Kelly.

"The first is that the Latino population has been growing and will continue to do so for many years to come. The Democratic advantage among Latinos serves to bolster the electoral strength of the Democratic Party.

"The second," he says, "is that Catholicism has been on the decline among Latinos in the United States. This trend likely will moderate the general Democratic advantage among Latinos in the future," he notes.

"The importance of both of these trends is magnified in presidential politics, due to the concentration of Latinos in important electoral states like California, Florida, Texas, New York and Illinois."

"In addition," says Kelly, "we found that the political importance of religion among Latinos has not been assessed adequately because religious variation beyond the Catholic/non-Catholic dichotomy has been ignored."

Other findings reported in the study include:

-- Fifty-six percent of respondents identified themselves as Roman Catholic. Seven percent said they were mainline Protestants and 23 percent said they were evangelicals. Nine percent cited no religious affiliation.

-- Variations in religious and party affiliation also were determined by where respondents were born and raised -- abroad or in the U.S.

-- The subjects diverged in their partisan affiliations, in some respects, according to their religious affiliations. Roman Catholics were more likely to identify themselves as Democrats -- 65 percent, compared to 56 percent of evangelicals, 37 percent of mainline Protestants and 56 percent of those with no religious affiliation.

"These variations were present in bivariate analyses reported in the study," says Kelly, "and also persist as significant predictors when controlling for a variety of other characteristics."

-- Overall, 24 percent of Roman Catholics identified with the Republican Party as did 34 percent of evangelicals and 42 percent of mainline Protestants. Sixty-one percent of those born and raised abroad identified as Catholics, whereas only 54 percent of those born and raised in the U.S. said they are Catholics. Kelly says this shows that recent shifts away from Catholicism are likely to continue as Latinos spend more time in the U.S.

-- Catholics, evangelicals and mainline Protestants were more likely to vote than were those citing no religious denomination. So although 50 percent of the religiously unaffiliated identified with the Democratic Party, their voting practices mitigate any advantage they offer to that party.

"The type of church one attends is central to the contextual theory of religious influence, and is particularly important among those in the process of learning about politics in a new country," says Nathan Kelly, "but religion is a multidimensional concept and we tried to account for this multidimensionality more carefully by placing emphasis on two psychological facets of religion -- theological beliefs and religious behaviors."

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