NPR logo For Latinos, Environment Seems Just As Important As Immigration

For Latinos, Environment Seems Just As Important As Immigration

An increasing amount of research suggests the environment — an issue that has long been seen within the purview of progressive, white liberals — is now increasingly important to Latinos.

A new poll conducted by Latino Decisions (a polling firm focusing on Hispanics in America) on behalf of two environmental nonprofit groups — Earthjustice and GreenLatinos — finds that Latinos are deeply concerned about the environment and its potential impact on their families.

The poll shows that Latinos place a high priority on the personal effects of climate change, particularly air and water pollution. Eighty-five percent of those surveyed said "reducing smog and air pollution is extremely or very important"; compared with 80 percent for comprehensive immigration reform.

"A lot of Latino households in the United States are in locations that are adversely affected by particulate pollution, by poor water quality," said Gary Segura, co-founder of Latino Decisions. " So quality of life, direct exposure to environmental hazards is quite common among the Latino population; we shouldn't be surprised they're concerned about it."

And Latinos, more than other Americans, see climate change as a man-made problem. Sixty-six percent of Latinos in this most recent poll believe human activities are to blame for global warming, compared with 57 percent of the general population, according to a Gallup survey last year.

This particular poll was a national sample of 1,200 registered Latino voters who were interviewed via landlines and cellphones in English and Spanish. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

But the reason it's important is that it confirms a growing a body of research about Latinos and environmental issues.

A survey conducted earlier this year by The New York Times, Stanford University and the nonpartisan environmental group Resources for the Future found that 54 percent of Hispanics saw global warming as extremely or very important to them personally, compared with 37 percent of whites.

And another study from the Hispanic Access Foundation and Latino Decisions analyzing nine different public opinion polls found similar Latino support for environmental protections.

Collectively, these data indicate Latino voters are increasingly aligned with Democratic values on issues beyond immigration, which could have implications for the 2016 presidential campaign.

"I think that to the extent that the Democrats are seen as the party that embraces a more pro-environmental position, that will advantage Democratic candidates," Segura said.

But while the environment may be a top priority for Latino voters, poll after poll finds the biggest priority for Latinos remains the economy. And that's up for grabs.

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