by Angelo Falcon

NBC Latino (October 26, 2013)

How do we characterize Latino politics at the national level in the current context of this post-shutdown period? This is significant since our current situation is still full of polarized economic and political issues which could even include another possible shutdown.

One important set of players in this process are Latino opinion leaders, individuals in pivotal positions in the private, public and nonprofit sectors, that play a disproportionate role in setting the Latino agenda. These are the individuals who are significant players in community organizations, the media, business and other important community institutions that negotiate with the powers that be politically nd intellectually on behalf of the Latino community.

Over the years the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP) has developed an extensive and unique listing of such Latino opinion leaders from throughout the country, and from time to time we conduct surveys to get their views on issues of importance to the Latino community. We recently conducted a National Latino Opinion Leaders Survey. Although this is one of the largest survey of Latino influentials, it is not presented as a scientific poll but as a vehicle for promoting discussion on key issues facing the Latino community in the United States.

Here are some of the key findings: 

President Obama. The Latino opinion leaders were mixed to negative in their assessment of the Obama Administration’s relations with the Latino community. Asked whether Obama’s election was a good or bad thing for Latinos, 44 percent saw it as good, 11 percent as bad, and 44 percent as a mix of bad and good. And whether the Obama Administration has adequately included Latinos, 73 percent feels that it hasn’t.

This is largely a reflection on the fact that the number of Latinos in Obama’s Cabinet has dropped from only two in his first term to only one in his second. In addition, Latinos remain the most underrepresented group in federal government employment: despite being 15 percent of the civilian labor force, they make up only 8 percent of the federal government workforce. 

The Major Political Parties. Latino opinion leaders felt that both the Democratic and Republican parties, at both the national and local levels, were not being responsive to the Latino community. At the national level, 57 percent felt that the Democratic Party was not being responsive to the Latino community, compared to 80 percent who thought the same about the Republican Party.

Latino Unity. Although the majority of the Latino opinion leaders (55 percent) felt that the Latino community had a common agenda and interests, a greater percentage (68 percent) felt that this community was disunited.

The Most Influential Latinos. The following four were considered to be the most influential Latino leaders when it came to negotiating with the Obama Administration: Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor (20 percent), Chicago Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez (15 percent), Florida US Senators Marco Rubio (12 percent)  and Bob Menendez (6 percent).

The Most Trusted Latino Organizations. The Latino opinion leaders identified the following two Latino organizations as the ones they most trusted in dealing with the Obama Administration: The National Council of La Raza (17 percent) and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (7 percent). However, close to half (46 percent) couldn’t name any.

Latino Policy Preferences. When asked what the top priority of the Obama second term should be for the country in general, the top three were Jobs (20 percent), Education (17 percent) and Immigration (15 percent). However, when asked the same question specifically addressed to the Latino community’s concerns, Immigration topped the list (32 percent), followed by Education (21 percent) and the “same as for the  country as a whole” (13 percent).

In their preferred approaches to addressing the nation’s economic problems, the Latino opinion leaders clearly supported positions that called for an activist and expanded government role, as opposed to conservative positions such as smaller government. They also were strongly in favor of Obamacare and held positions that were not supportive of the major provisions of the US Senate and House Democratic immigration reform bills.

There was significant disagreement among the Latino opinion leaders when it came to the future political status of Puerto Rico. The stateside Puerto Ricans in the survey were most supportive of independence for Puerto Rico (41 percent), following by some form of the current commonwealth status (26 percent) and statehood (25 percent).

The non-Puerto Rican Latino opinion leaders were, on the other hand, most supportive of statehood (33 percent), followed by independence (23 percent), with very few preferring some form of the current commonwealth status (7 percent). Only 9 percent of the stateside Puerto Rican opinion leaders didn’t know, were not sure or didn’t care, compared to 37 percent of the non-Puerto Ricans.

Despite the troubling picture drawn by the views of these Latino opinion leaders, they nonetheless remain very optimistic about the future of the country as a whole (23 percent) and even more optimistic about the future of the Latino community (44 percent). This is encouraging in revealing a positive outlook in the face of what most see as major political challenges facing their community under the Obama administration.

Angelo Falcón is President of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP). For further information on NiLP, visit our website, www,latinopollicy.org. He can be reached at afalcon@latinopolicy.org.

You can check out more at National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP): http://www.nilpnetwork.org/

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