An overwhelming majority of Latino voters believes the war in Iraq was not worth fighting, and a significant minority believes Hispanics have suffered a disproportionate share of the casualties, according to a new survey of Latino voters by The Washington Post, Univision and the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.
While voters nationally divide over the wisdom of going to war in Iraq, Latinos expressed no such ambivalence: By 2 to 1, Hispanic voters believe the war was a mistake.
The survey found that nearly three in 10 Latinos believe Hispanics are disproportionately represented among the dead and wounded in Iraq compared with other racial or ethnic groups, while six in 10 disagree.
The new poll also found that Democrat John F. Kerry leads President Bush by 59 percent to 30 percent among registered Hispanic voters, virtually unchanged from a Post-Univision-Tomas Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI) survey in July. Independent Ralph Nader received 1 percent.
As with all voters, economic concerns have emerged as the top issue among Latinos, the survey found. More than one in four -- 27 percent -- named the economy and jobs as the issue that will determine their vote on Tuesday. Twenty percent said terrorism was their major concern; 15 percent listed Iraq and education.
Latino voters preferred Kerry, rather than Bush, to deal with each of the major issues facing the country. The Democrat led Bush as the candidate who would do the better job of dealing with the situation in Iraq, where Kerry held a 15 percentage-point advantage. The Democrat also had double-digit advantages over the president on handling the economy (26 points), dealing with immigration issues (18 points) and dealing with education (23 points).
Kerry also was seen as the candidate best able to handle terrorism, where he led Bush 46 percent to 38 percent on an issue on which most voters overall give the president the advantage.
On personal qualities viewed important in a president, Kerry was seen as more empathetic, likable and more trusted to deal with crises. Bush was seen as the candidate who was more likely to take positions and stick with them. Hispanics were divided over whether Bush or Kerry was the stronger leader, the quality that voters consistently say they most value in a candidate and one where Bush has held a substantial lead among all voters.
The poll also strongly suggests that Bush may fall short of topping the 35 percent of the Hispanic vote he received in 2000. In only one heavily Hispanic state -- Florida -- does Bush lead Kerry among Latinos, largely on the strength of overwhelming support among Cuban Americans.
In other states, Bush finishes a distant second to Kerry. In California, two in three registered Latinos said they plan to vote for Kerry while barely one in five support the president. Even in Bush's home state of Texas, the president gets only a third of all Latino votes while Kerry claims 57 percent, according to the Post-Univision-TRPI survey.
If Bush falls short of the 40 percent mark among Latinos, that will prove to be a major disappointment to his strategists and to Republican National Committee, who jointly have invested four years and substantial amounts of money to attract greater support in the Hispanic community. Matthew Dowd, the Bush campaign's senior strategist, said not long after the 2000 election that, because of surging population growth in the Hispanic community, the president would need to win a greater share of the vote in 2004 or risk losing the election -- all other things being equal.
Bush and his team have tried to woo Latinos by showering presidential attention on the community and by running a systematic public relations campaign, much of it bilingual, aimed at highlighting administration accomplishments that might play well among Hispanic voters.
Kerry and the Democrats have fought back, paying more attention to Latino media and advertising than Vice President Al Gore did four years ago. Several outside groups, notably the New Democrat Network, have poured money into Spanish-language advertising in battleground states with heavily Hispanic populations.
This is the third and final survey of Latino registered voters sponsored by The Post, the Univision Spanish-language television network and TRPI, an independent think tank affiliated with the University of Southern California. A total of 1,603 randomly selected Hispanic voters in the 11 states with the largest Latino electorates were interviewed by telephone Oct. 4-16.
More than six in 10 Latinos rejected the belief that Hispanics are suffering a higher rate of casualties compared with other racial and ethnic groups. Nearly three in 10 said they were, a view most likely to be expressed by Latinos of Mexican descent (32 percent) than of Puerto Rican (21 percent) or Cuban (14 percent) ancestry.
In fact, Hispanics have been disproportionately represented on the casualty lists in Iraq compared to other racial or ethnic groups, said Brian Gifford, a researcher with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at the University of California at Berkeley.
"Hispanic casualties are higher than expected based on their service in the military and based on their participation in combat arms specialties," said Gifford, who is studying the racial and ethnic makeup of casualties in Iraq. "Hispanics make up about 12 percent of casualties so far, but they only make up about 9 percent of active-duty military."
But it is a bit more complicated than that, Gifford cautioned. He said that Hispanics disproportionately were killed during the "active phase of the war" in 2003 and subsequently in periods of intense combat. But during lulls in the insurgency, Latino casualties return to expected levels.
"That may be related to Latinos' participation in the Marine Corps, which would increase their exposure to high-intensity combat situations, or perhaps it is due to Hispanics' overrepresentation in the lower ranks. I'm not quite sure what the explanation is."
Senior polling analyst Christopher Muste contributed to this report.