Jun 23, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Latino evangelical leader sees major voter shifts

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr. speaks during the 2021 King Holiday Observance Beloved Community Commemorative Service on January 18, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr. during the 2021 King Holiday Observance Beloved Community Commemorative Service in Atlanta. Photo: Paras Griffin/Getty Images

The leader of the world's largest Hispanic evangelical organization tells Axios that he believes U.S. Latinos are moving away from the Democratic Party as more of them embrace evangelical churches and conservative beliefs.

Why it matters: Latino evangelicals are among the fastest-growing segments within an increasingly powerful voting bloc.

The big picture: Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr. leads the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, a group that represents more than 42,000 churches around the nation.

  • The organization has pushed for immigration reform, and Rodriguez has advised leaders from both political parties, including former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
  • Many of the group's member churches cater to Spanish-speaking immigrants from Central America, while others serve Latinos who have left the Catholic Church.

What he's saying: Rodriguez said recent elections, including Republican Mayra Flores' victory last week in South Texas and gains former President Trump made with Latinos in 2020, show a seismic political shift.

  • "The Hispanic community is not what everyone assumed it would be: this unbelievable lock-in-step voting constituency that is an integral part of the Democratic Party."
  • A combination of Democrats taking Latino voters for granted, the targeting of Latinos by Republicans in local races, and an increase in the number of Latino evangelicals are pushing Hispanics into new political territories, he said.
  • It's what experts have been saying and what election results have shown in the past two years. Polls also show the Democratic party losing ground with Latinos, although it's not a mass exodus.

Yes, but: The surge in Hispanic evangelicals doesn't mean most Latinos will automatically shift from supporting Democrats to backing Republicans, Rodriguez said.

On the economy: Inflation, rising interest rates, high gas prices, and the COVID-19 locked down have created more doubt among Latinos over how they fit into the U.S. economy, Rodriguez said.

On abortion: A Pew Research Center survey released last week showed that 40% of Latinos said abortion should be illegal in most or all cases — the highest among all ethnic groups.

  • "We're the most pro-life community in America... The way Democrats are speaking about this issue is alienating some Latinos."

On LGBTQ+ rights: Rodriguez said evangelicals are very tolerant but don't believe teachers should talk about sex.

On critical race theory: Rodriguez said Latino evangelicals may have issues with some of the premises of critical race theory but feel some Republican-led states have gone too far in banning civil rights discussions in schools.

  • "We're both Billy Graham and Dr. King. We're both vertical and horizontal Christians. We're not married to the donkey or the elephant. We're married to the lamb."

The bottom line: The extremism in both parties has left moderate-leaning Latinos, many evangelicals, politically homeless, Rodriguez said.

  • He added that Democrats are losing ground, but there's no guarantee Republicans will win over Latinos long-term if candidates don't "watch their rhetoric."

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