A revolution is underway among America’s Latino population that will have profound implications for the future of American politics. Of the 41.3 million Hispanics in the United States today, 37 percent identify themselves as "born-again" or "evangelical." Just 10 years ago, the proportion that did so was about 15 percent. All told, there are now about 11 million Evangelical Protestant and 3 million Evangelical or Charismatic Catholic Latinos in the United States. In 1996, there were only 4 million.
This explosive growth in Evangelical religious affiliation among Latinos — about 1 million converts annually — portends huge changes for American politics. With the Latino population swelling from 22 million in 1990 to 41 million in 2004, any change of these proportions in the beliefs of Hispanic-Americans will have a momentous impact on politics.
Evangelicals, of any race or ethnicity, are fertile ground for Republicans and may provide a huge opening to swing the formerly Democratic Hispanic vote toward a more even-handed stance or even make it a core element of an emerging Republican majority.
I recently met with Rev. Sam Rodriquez, the leader of the national association of Evangelical Latino churches. He's a Republican dream: pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and a Bush voter. He notes that the growing religious faith and the increase in Evangelical enrollment — particularly in the Pentecostal Church — may presage a sea change in Hispanic political affiliations.
Unfortunately, the hostile reception immigration reform has received from the GOP side of the aisle in Washington is turning off the very voters the Republicans can now, for the first time, hope to attract to their side. Based on a fear of Democratic domination of the Hispanic vote, Republican insistence on barring the way to citizenship and voting rights for undocumented or illegal immigrants may drive these very potential Republican supporters back into Democratic arms.
The Latino population is clearly the jump ball in American politics. While now only 8 percent of the registered voters — but 14 percent of the population — the Hispanic vote is going to swell in the coming decade and tip the 50-50 balance now prevailing between the two parties. Red states like Texas, Arizona and Florida may become sharply and suddenly blue when Hispanic voting reaches its full potential among those currently here, not to count those who will come in the future. Texas, for example, is now a majority-minority state in population. Its GOP affiliation is an artifact of the past if the Hispanic vote goes Democratic.