Are Hispanics that socially conservative?

By Razib Khan | May 24, 2012 11:35 am

I often hear in the media that Hispanics are “socially conservative.” For that sort of thing you do need “quick & dirty” rules-of-thumb, and the assertion seems broadly plausible. On the other hand, the Hispanic attitude toward gay marriage isn’t really that different from non-Hispanic white (see GSS MARHOMO variable). So I decided to query non-Hispanic white and Hispanic attitudes to a range of “hot-button” social issues in the GSS. I also broke it down by college vs. non-college educated cohorts. All results are from the year 2000 and later.


White non-Hispanic Hispanic






No college College No college College
Abortion on demand, yes 38 53 28 47
Abortion if serious defect, yes 75 70 67 79
Make divorce easier 23 16 44 28
Keep divorce laws same 23 34 17 40
Make divorce more difficult 55 50 38 32
Premarital sex always wrong 26 19 21 16
Premarital sex almost always wrong 8 8 10 7
Premarital sex sometimes wrong 18 23 20 13
Premarital sex not wrong at all 47 50 49 64
Homosexual sex always wrong 58 35 61 33
Homosexual sex almost always wrong 4 5 5 4
Homosexual sex sometimes wrong 6 11 7 9
Homosexual sex not wrong at all 32 48 27 55
Porn should be illegal to all 40 30 36 25
Porn should be illegal to under 18 57 67 60 70
Porn should be legal to all 3 3 4 4
Strongly favor spanking children 28 17 25 19
Favor spanking children 47 44 44 43
Do not favor spanking children 19 28 22 20
Strongly do not favor spanking children 6 11 9 17
Allow incurable patients to die 72 72 58 76
Strongly agree better for man to work, woman to tend home 10 5 14 9
Agree better for man to work, woman to tend home 31 19 32 16
Disagree better for man to work, woman to tend home 43 49 43 48
Strongly disagree better for man to work, woman to tend home 16 28 11 27

These results can be used to support the proposition that Hispanics are socially conservative. But they are not of the magnitude or direction of difference that one finds when comparing evangelical white Protestants to other whites, or even blacks to whites. So though technically defensible, I think the assertion that Hispanics are socially conservative in their attitudes misleads the public somewhat.

(unless the divorce results are mis-coded, they do seem correct)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Data Analysis
MORE ABOUT: Politics
  • Doug1

    These results were surprising to me in showing Hispanics less socially conservative than I’d thought.

    I’d always thought they were more sexually permissive than the protestant religious right professes to be, with forgive the sinner sorts of Catholic attitudes. But not on many of the other topics as much.

    I was also surprised the degree of the college educated and not socially conservative to more liberal divide than among non Hispanic whites. Perhaps because a lot smaller percentage among Hispanics are college educated compared to whites, and they occupy not only a more rarefied IQ percentage among Hispanics but also more culturally liberal and assimilationist fraction as well.

  • http://www.isteve.blogspot Steve Sailer

    In general, Mexican-Americans don’t get all that worked up over the kinds of symbolic ideological controversies that get white people all worked up. Mexican-Americans tend to vote the way whites voted back in Harry Truman’s day: What’s in it for me and mine?

  • Dwight E. Howell

    I’m not sure that native born Hispanics would or should be sorted out of the general population if people who claim not be raciest didn’t insist on labels. The ones related to me have very diverse views. I don’t consider one group of European with a dash of native Americans to necessarily be all that different from the others.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #3, you’re being incoherent. be more clear in the future.

  • http://dispatchesfromturtleisland.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    While a large proportion of Hispanics are Roman Catholic, the proportion of recent immigrant Hispanics (without regarding to legality of immigration status) who are Evangelical Christians (predominantly Pentecostal) is much higher than among the general populations of the source countries.

    Put another way, a bit like the early American colonies, religious dissenters make up a disproportionate share of Latin American migrants to the U.S., and usually those dissenters are going to be more socially conservative than either nominal established church Roman Catholics from Latin America or Latin American secularists (who in this context are often also communist/democratic socialist leaning in their politics).

    Now, the social issues that are salient to Pentecostals from Latin America and the social issues that are salient to American Pentecostals are not necessarily precisely the same. For example, a migrant from a country where abortion is or has been until recently de facto illegal is not necessarily going to be sensitized to abortion as a political issue in the same way that it is for American Evangelicals who have been in pitched political and legal warfare over the issue for at least a decade prior to Roe v. Wade in 1973 and continuously since then. But, a Latin American Pentecostal’s political ideology is likely to be much more similar to a white Evangelical than it is to an African-American Pentecostal’s ideology.

    Since Pentecostalism is something of a class issue in Latin America, associated particularly with a small business/entrapreneal class – the kind of people who’d be in the local Chamber of Commerce in the U.S., the political impact of members of that class of people is also likely to be about impact through community leaders and campaign contributions than it is to be about pure overall survey preferences of Hispanic American adults.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #5, you make errors in your generalizations which are misleading. e.g., the proportion of recent immigrant Hispanics (without regarding to legality of immigration status) who are Evangelical Christians (predominantly Pentecostal) is much higher than among the general populations of the source countries.

    give me some numbers for guatemalans. i bet it isn’t that different. perhaps mexicans, but perhaps not, because protestantism has a big hold only in chiapas. the recent migrants are from the south, but historically many came from the catholic north.

    Since Pentecostalism is something of a class issue in Latin America, associated particularly with a small business/entrapreneal class

    do you want to give me a citation? i know that that’s not the case in chile, where the lower/lower middle classes are protestant. in brazil last i checked there was a strong overlap between those who followed afro-brazilian cults and evangelicalism.

  • Chris

    After seeing some of the typical Mexican programs which have high degrees of violence and sexuality, I always felt that Hispanics weren’t that socially conservative.

  • Anthony

    I think that the idea that Hispanics are socially conservative is either based on old attitudes, or is based on the idea that people who go to church regularly are automatically socially conservative. For lots of Hispanics, regular (not necessarily weekly) church attendance is more about social and cultural community than it is about faith and morals.

    This is testable in the GSS, but I’ve had a poor time trying to get the website to do what I want it to do.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #8, republicans also incessantly talk about how non-whites are socially conservative and ‘natural republicans.’ the press tends to repeat stuff as fact if you say it enough.

  • Anthony

    Razib – if you define “socially conservative” as “anti-gay-marriage”, blacks are significantly more socially conservative than whites, in general. So there’s truth to that claim of the Republicans. If “socially conservative” was popularly defined as “anti-bastardy”, nobody would claim that blacks are more socially conservative than whites. Even though most social conservatives are against both gay marriage and bastardy, the legal and political battle is currently happening on the gay marriage issue, not bastardy, and thus that becomes the defining issue of social conservatism.

    On the other hand, almost nobody who isn’t a spokesman for the Republican Party actually repeats the claim that non-whites are “natural republicans”, because in today’s context, it pretty much isn’t true.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #10, we can argue how significant the difference is now:

    http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/25/signs-of-shift-among-african-americans-on-same-sex-marriage/

    additionally, the blacks = social conservative meme among republicans predates gay marriage fwiw.

  • Anthony

    Without seeing the actual numbers behind the graph in that article, it looks like Black attitudes on same-sex marriage are liberalizing at about the same rate as whites, leaving blacks more conservative than whites, but less conservative overall.

    I don’t remember the “blacks are socially conservative” meme from the ’80s, though I do remember the “hispanics are socially conservative” from then. “Blacks are socons” may predate gay marriage, but probably not other gay issues.

    Back when socially conservative primarily meant “anti-abortion”, there may have been some mistaken belief that blacks in general were more anti-abortion than whites, but I doubt that belief was based on actual facts. Black opinion regarding abortion may have been more polarized, and certianly some black leaders (like Jesse Jackson) who were otherwise pretty liberal were not fully pro-choice, but there’s a lot of support for abortion in the black community.

  • edouard

    We may need to pre-define Hispanic and conservative within the context. There is a tendency to llump all “Hispanics” as one but the Florida Cuban Republicanism is an outlier when the majority Mexican origin group is close to 70% and they tend to vote Democratic.

    Conservatism in a Spanish speaking (hispanohablante) group is distinct form the conservatism associated with those who name themselves Republican therefore we have an apples and oranges syndrome. In both the “Hispanic” and African American group, conservatism is far more behavioural in context than adherence to social policy associated with a party (herein called “Republican”). Even those blacks who embrace Republican “values”, they are often no different form their white Republican “allies” .

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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