Episode Summary

As we head into the 2022 mid-term elections and further on into the 2024 presidential election, one of the hottest topics in political strategy is where will Latino voters fit into the equation.

Historically, Democrats have done better among Latinos, but in 2020, former president Donald Trump improved his share among the group by 8 percent—a development that ought to signal to political observers that Latino voters are a complicated group, motivated by much more than concerns about immigration.

In addition to a variety of ethnic differences, Latino Americans are starting to manifest some of the other differences that have previously been observed among White Americans. Joe Biden won 69 percent of college-degreed Latino voters, but his share dropped to 55 percent among those without a college degree.

There also appears to be an emerging religious divide among Latinos with those who adhere to no religion or to Roman Catholicism being more likely to support Democrats and those who are Protestant more likely to support Republicans.

In a 2020 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, 57 percent of the Hispanic Protestant bloc said they approved of the job then-president Trump was doing while just 27 percent of Catholics agreed. Among non-religious Latinos, his approval rating was even lower–16 percent.

With Hispanic Protestants—primarily evangelicals—growing at a rapid rate, what does that mean for the future of American politics? Joining us to discuss is Gerardo Martí, he’s a professor of sociology at Davidson College and also the president-elect of the Association for the Sociology of Religion.

The live video of our conversation is below. A transcript of the edited audio follows. Members of the Flux Patreon have full access to read. Quality journalism is expensive to produce. Please support our efforts.


MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: Thanks for being here, Gerardo.

GERARDO MARTI: Thanks, my pleasure.

SHEFFIELD: All right. The discussion that we’re going to have today we’re going to focus it around an article that you wrote and I will provide a link in the show notes for everybody who wants to check it out. But you wrote a piece in the Journal of Sociology of Religion and your article was about some of the religious aspects of Latino Americans and whether or not Protestants in the various Latino communities have different political opinions.

So let’s maybe walk through a little bit about some of the key points in your article. What’s your overall contention?

MARTI: Well, thanks for having me. We know that the proportion of Protestants among Latinos has grown tremendously in recent years, it’s one of the most dramatic shifts happening among Latinos in the United States.

And so most people have been just trying to pay attention to what is that difference? To what extent are Protestants different than Catholics, to what proportion are the Protestants just really Pentecostals and what consequences is that having for the demographics of church life? Because we also are seeing a rise in religious Nones.

And of course, we’re also seeing the fact that church membership and church attendance overall has declined. So is perhaps Latino Christianity, one of the most vibrant aspects of Christianity in the United States? And that’s a question that I’ve been pursuing for quite a while.

But it was since the Trump presidency that I began to pay a lot more attention to the politics of Latino Protestants, and to begin to see to what extent do we see Latino Protestants as resonating with their white Christian, especially white evangelical brethren. And by being able to take a look at that, we immediately run into difficulties. So even though I and colleagues have been spending time in congregations in communities across the United States to really get an on the ground look at what they are doing, to be able to get macro views based on survey data or even polling data to actually measure what’s going on– this becomes a very difficult because we actually have too few that are measured and to be able to make a distinction between Latinos on the basis of their religious orientation.

So the essay that I wrote was an attempt to focus more directly on. Does the growth of Latino Protestants in the United States have religious consequences for their vote?

And what we see is yes, first we need to be able to look more carefully at the history of colonization and the border issues that have translated into what does it mean to be a Latino in the United States and what kinds of people are coming into the United States, and therefore, what do they adopt? And when we begin to see all of these things together, We find that Latinos overall are seeming to resonate with a kind of family politics that is characteristic of the conservative right.

And that family politics, which really resonates with stereotypes about Latinos, who care about family and are family oriented and family centered seem to also dovetail with their being mostly against homosexuality, trans, or gay rights kind of things. And they also tend to be anti abortion as a whole.

So when you see a connection, then the growth in their churches in terms of Latino Protestants, especially Latino evangelicals and Pentecostals. And we see the resonances that they have with certain social attitudes. What we’re increasingly seeing is that all of that seems to be aligning with support for Donald Trump.

And this becomes a surprise because most people believe that Donald Trump’s words and the kinds of things that he had advocated about the wall, about immigration, about the kinds of discriminatory things that he had said that created a lot of reactions, that still you have a significant proportions of Latinos who still resonate with the policies being proposed by Trump and the GOP.

In 2016 and in 2020, what we saw is indeed an increase in Latino Protestants giving their vote over to Donald Trump. And that this needs to be explained over and beyond the Latinos who are Cuban or Venezuelan, which in popular terms, people believe that their anti-communism automatically translates into a vote for the GOP, but actually it doesn’t account for significant votes and support that’s going from Latino populations that are not Cuban or Venezuelan in other states in other places outside of like Florida.

So when we look at those things more carefully, what we need to do is pay more attention at a distinction of religious orientation among Latinos. And to be able to look specifically at what is the religious orientation and the networks that they’re a part of feeding into in terms of the politics that they take on and ultimately the vote that they’ll support.

SHEFFIELD: And so just real quick, let’s maybe discuss like the difference that you saw in terms of the actual vote totals and some of the polling differences between Latino Catholics and Protestants.

MARTI: So when we look specifically, we have scarce information that we can draw on.

But the little bit that we have is that even though we don’t see entirely, always majority Latino Protestants, the best information that I have most recently is showing that in 2020, the majority of Latino Protestants did vote for Donald Trump. Maybe if it’s just over 50%, maybe 55%, it still becomes a majority that is washed out when you only look at the Latino vote as a whole.

Now we do see that conservatism, generally speaking, among everyone, including Latinos will predict that vote. So that if a Latino somehow resonates with conservatism, then you’re going to get that vote. But it still doesn’t explain where that conservatism comes from and what supports it.

Is it just those people who are able to have more more education in some way? We don’t see that. Is it home ownership, the ability to have property and assets? Yes. There’s some indication that indeed has a positive inflection. But Protestantism is a powerful point of explanation for Latinos’ support for Donald Trump and that the more that they attend church, the more you see them immersed in a congregational community, the more you see their support aligned with a Trump vote.

So what does that mean for the future? We’re all still trying to figure out. But I think that it shows an aligning if you will, between the Latino or the Hispanic Protestant vote and the initiatives that are being proposed as policy by the GOP. And that’s measured by other factors.

Like generally speaking, Hispanic evangelicals, as measured by PRRI in particular, are the ones who are the most against open immigration policies. They’re the ones who express the least amount of resistance to the confinement of children across the border, or the separation of parents from their children. They’re the ones who are, who tend to most agree that immigrants are somehow hurting our country or the culture of the United States, that they’re changing the culture of the United States.

And so the surprise there is that you have Hispanic evangelicals who are being the closest with aligning with their white evangelical brethren. So if we now see white evangelicals as the vanguard or the largest group that expresses the most intense support for the Trump presidency and different policies that are coming through, then we should now be paying attention also to those Hispanics or Latinos who also seem to be tracking with that and aligning with them. Even if the proportion is smaller in places where the vote is razor-thin, those small margins are going to make a difference. And indeed, I think they have.

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