Hispanic Americans are divided over support for the war with Iraq, placing the nation's fastest-growing ethnic group firmly between white Americans who overwhelmingly favor the fighting and African Americans who do not, according to a poll released yesterday by the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center.

The nationwide survey, conducted last week in English and Spanish, shows that 61 percent of the Latinos surveyed said they supported the war, and that 27 percent said they opposed it. Among white Americans, 81 percent supported the war, while 61 percent of African Americans opposed it, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll this week.

"You can really see a rally-around-the flag effect in the nation by Latinos," said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center. "It's like a 20 percent jump in favor of the war between February and November."

Latinos born in the United States were more supportive of the invasion of Iraq than those who immigrated, the survey found. Fifty-two percent of foreign-born Hispanics supported the war, compared with 75 percent of U.S.-born residents. Nearly 40 percent of foreign-born residents and 19 percent of native citizens opposed the war.

Suro said U.S.-born Latinos, 79 percent of whom watch English-language television news, said they had a clear idea of the reasons for the war. Foreign-born Latinos, 59 percent of whom watch Spanish-language television, were less likely to say that they understood why the United States was fighting.

The telephone poll was conducted among 500 adults between April 3 to 6 and has a margin of error of four percentage points. The sample was representative of the Latino adult population in age, education, national origin and gender. Most foreign-born participants were Mexican natives.

Latinos make up the nation's fastest-growing ethnic group, according to the latest Census Bureau projections. As a group, census officials say, Latinos are equal to African Americans as a percentage of the U.S. population, but Latino activists contend that the Hispanic population has surpassed that of black Americans.

Gilbert Moreno, head of the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans, said he believes Latinos support the war out of pride. "I think there is a tremendous sense of duty and honor among Hispanics," he said. "There's a long line of service of Latinos in the armed services. I think, overall, that's the sentiment I've heard. Obviously, there are a lot of young people who oppose the war, and they've joined the antiwar movement."

Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, said the differences in opinion between native-born and foreign-born Latinos is telling.

"Foreign-born Latinos understand the economic consequences if there is instability," he said. "They are the last to be hired and the first to be fired. Also, there is always a fear of being caught without their documents in a time of war, increasing the tension they live with every day."

Moreover, Guerra said, foreign-born Latinos from war-torn countries such as Nicaragua and El Salvador are more sensitive to the consequences of war.