By Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service
WASHINGTON — Latino Protestant voters appear to be swinging away from the Republican Party, a new poll shows, and immigration is a key factor.
The survey of 500 Latino Protestant registered voters found that 50.4% favored Democrat Barack Obama, while 33.6% favored Republican John McCain. Ten percent were undecided.
Those figures compare dramatically to post-election surveys that found President Bush won 63% of Latino Protestants in 2004 and 32% in 2000.
"This is a clear indication that the vote is indeed swinging dramatically from 2004 to 2008 but we'll see on Election Day how things actually turn out," said Katie Paris, a spokeswoman for Faith in Public Life, one of the co-sponsors of the poll.
Eighty percent of the Latino Protestants polled were self-identified "born-again" Christians and/or attended a congregation affiliated with an evangelical denomination.
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The immigration issue factored significantly in the findings, ranking close to abortion as a priority issue for this segment of voters. While 75% said abortion was "extremely" or "very" important in determining their vote, 71% felt that way about immigration reform. A smaller percentage, 56%, said gay marriage was extremely or very important.
"The lack of immigration reform may very well determine the outcome of the election," said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, a poll co-sponsor.
"Immigration is a profoundly religious issue for Hispanic evangelicals. We will vote our faith and we will vote our values."
The poll also found that 83% of Latino Protestants said a candidate's position on immigration is key in determining their vote this year. Three out of four respondents said their religious beliefs are important in influencing their views on immigration.
The poll of 500 Latino Protestant registered voters also was sponsored by the Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership at Vanguard University, America's Voice Education Fund and Gaston Espinosa, associate professor of religious studies at Claremont McKenna College. It was conducted by SDR Consulting in Atlanta and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.