In the days before the presidential election, some opinion surveys said Democrats would get as much as 65 percent of the Hispanic vote.
But on the morning after the voting, some exit polls held that Democratic nominee John F. Kerry had received about 56 percent of Hispanics' votes and that President Bush had gotten 44 percent.
Now some public opinion researchers are trying to determine the reasons for the discrepancies between the pre- and post-election numbers.
Sergio Bendixen, a Miami-based public opinion researcher who helped survey Hispanics for the New Democrat Network in the District, said the answer lies in the diversity among Hispanics, the largest ethnic group in the United States.
The Spanish speakers come, or descend from those, from different nations -- Spain, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia and Cuba, to name a few -- and identify racially as white, black, some other race and Asian. Their numbers include newly arrived immigrants and families whose descendants lived in the United States before the Civil War. As a group, they favor federal spending but adhere to conservative values on issues such as abortion, stem cell research and same-sex marriage.
In recent years, Hispanics overtook African Americans as the nation's largest ethnic group, making them a tantalizing political demographic. About 9 million Hispanics voted in this month's election, a 40 percent increase from the number who voted four years ago, pollster John J. Zogby said.
Bendixen, president of Bendixen and Associates, which specializes in the Hispanic market, said early polls did not engage Hispanics correctly.
Bendixen cited Zogby International, which he said conducted 13 percent of its interviews with Hispanics in Spanish on its way to predicting that Kerry would win 61 percent of the community's vote. It was a mistake, Bendixen said, to poll less than 40 percent of the Hispanic community in its native language.
"You have to have the right ratio," Bendixen said, or the poll will be thrown off.
Zogby, president of Zogby International, stood by his numbers. He said he has "great respect" for Bendixen but "no one with any understanding of Hispanics has duplicated the 44 percent" for Republicans in post-election surveys.
Zogby believes the correct percentage for Hispanic Bush supporters is 33 to 38. That view is supported by an exit poll conducted by the William C. Velasquez Institute of San Antonio.
In that exit poll, Hispanics favored Kerry over Bush by 65 percent to 34 percent. Fernando J. Guerra, a political science professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said hundreds of researchers have posted comments that support the institute's survey.
"There's nothing special that Bush did to get a higher turnout," Guerra said, doubting that the president won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. "What would explain this tremendous amount of Latino support for Bush?"
Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-Colo.) said Republicans gained more Hispanic voters by appealing to their conservative values. "They stood up for traditional values, whether it was life or against gay marriage," he said.