updated 7/22/2004 10:56:02 AM ET 2004-07-22T14:56:02

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry holds a 2-1 lead over President Bush among Hispanics, according to polling that suggested Republicans have not made inroads into a key demographic group they have targeted for this election.

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A majority of Hispanics, 56 percent, said they disapprove of the way Bush is handling the war in Iraq.

Kerry and running mate John Edwards had the backing of 59 percent, while Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had 31 percent and independents Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo had 3 percent, according to the poll released Thursday by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Video: Brokaw interviews Kerry When voters were asked if they might change their vote for president, 29 percent of those who said they were not voting for Kerry said there was a chance they might support him. Only 13 percent of those not supporting Bush said there was a chance they might back him.

Bush’s job approval rating among Hispanic voters was 35 percent, lower than his job approval among the general population in other polling.

In the 2000 election, Democrat Al Gore got 62 percent of the Hispanic vote and Bush got 35 percent, according to exit polls. Republicans are aiming to push their Hispanic support to 40 percent this election — a goal GOP strategists have said is crucial because Hispanics are this country’s fastest-growing minority group.

A state-by-state battle
The battle for Hispanic votes will be fought state by state, however, because the candidates are competing for each state’s electoral votes.

Polling finds different levels of support among different Hispanic groups. For example, Cuban-Americans were more likely to support Bush, while Mexican-Americans were more likely to support Kerry.

But the Pew polling found signs the GOP effort to gain ground among Hispanics may be a difficult task this year.

Nearly half of Hispanics, 45 percent, identified themselves as Democrats. About two in 10, 20 percent, said they are Republican, and another two in 10 said they are independents.

That’s almost an identical party breakdown to similar polls taken in 1999 and 2002.

The party identification was measured in polling of 2,288 Hispanic adults, including 1,166 Hispanic registered voters, from April 21 to June 9. The random sample included those who said they were of Hispanic or Latino origin.

The head-to-head matchup of Bush and Kerry was from a poll taken July 12-20 of 788 Hispanic registered voters.

The margin of sampling error for both polls of registered voters was plus or minus 4 percentage points. The margin of error for the in-depth adult sample was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Some other findings from the long-term poll:

  • Education was the top issue for Hispanics, along with the economy, jobs and health care.
  • More than eight in 10 Hispanics said health care issues such as the cost of health care, the number of uninsured and the cost of prescription drugs are important to their vote.
  • More than half of Hispanic voters said recent tax cuts have not made a difference, or they do not know whether they have made a difference. The remainder was split on whether the effect of tax cuts has been good or bad.
  • Hispanic voters were split on whether or not there should be a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

A poll of Hispanic voters done for The Washington Post, Univision and the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute also found Kerry with a 2-1 advantage over Bush.

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