Contrary to popular assumptions, Latinos are not a single issue group. Like many other Americans, Latinos care deeply about a variety of issues, including protecting the environment. In the latest national survey carried out by Latino Decisions and Voces Verdes, a significant majority of Latinos were again shown to favor policies aimed at reducing air pollution and preventing climate change. These findings are not surprising in the context of prior studies showing over two-thirds of Latinos favor water conservation efforts, and are more likely to support candidates who make environmental protection a priority.
In a national survey of 600 Latinos carried out in April 2013, respondents were asked: “Generally speaking, do you favor or oppose the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) setting safeguards to limit air pollution that impacts the public health?”
Eighty-four percent of Latinos, a very robust majority, said they favor allowing the EPA to set safeguards to reduce air pollution. The source of this strong support may be explained by the fact that Latinos tend to reside in areas with high concentrations of air pollution. According to a 2011 study by the Natural Resource Defense Council, nearly one out of every two Latinos lives in the country’s top 25 most ozone-polluted cities. The consequences of breathing air that is unsafe are well documented with immediate or near-term health consequences for those breathing it on a daily basis. It comes as no surprise that illnesses associated with air pollutants, like asthma and chronic bronchitis are prevalent among Latinos. In short, Latinos generally, and their children in particular, may be the most vulnerable to failed environmental safeguards and having continued strong leadership in place at EPA to protect against these harms, is critical.
Given the adverse health impacts of air pollution, are Latinos as concerned about climate change—an issue many tend to think is only important to environmentalists. To gauge how important this is to Latinos, we asked: “If President Obama has the power to pass a rule that limits the pollution that causes climate change do you support him doing so?”
Latinos strongly support, at a rate of 86%, President Obama taking action to reduce pollution that causes climate change. The widespread support for taking action demonstrates Latinos perceive this issue to be one of more immediate consequence.
There were little to no differences across various segments within the Latino population including sex, income, education, and nativity. When differences were observed, party identification accounted for the variation. To put a finer point on it, there was a 10 percentage point gap between Democrats and Republicans on the EPA question, and a 26 percentage point gap on the presidential authority question. It is noteworthy, though, that in both instances about three-quarters of Latino Republicans favored the proposals, a sound majority.
Continued concern for the environment is significant, since many are waiting to see stronger environmental action from President Obama in his second term. In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama boldly proclaimed that he would take action to prevent climate change by stating,
“I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”
While other issues appear to be taking priority at the moment, it is important for elected officials to understand that protecting the environment remains a priority for Latinos. Clearly, all segments of the Latino population not only care about the environment, they support action on the part of elected officials (in this case President Obama) to take affirmative steps to reduce air pollution and control climate change. Despite being portrayed as a group that is singly concerned about immigration, the reality is much different. Our survey shows that Latinos remain committed to environmental protection because they know it can safeguard their health and communities.
Methodology: Latino Decisions interviewed a nationally representative sample of 600 Latino adults. The poll was conducted April 17- 24, 2013. Respondents were selected at random in both landline and cell-phone only households. The nominal margin of error is +/- 3.9%. Interviews were conducted in Spanish and English at the subject’s discretion.
Adrian Pantoja is professor of political science at Pitzer College and a senior analyst at Latino Decisions.