Global warming a hot issue for Hispanic voters in US

Latinos in US care more than white voters about climate change, survey finds

Worker takes a break in a garlic field in California: a survey has found Hispanics are far more likely than whites to view global warming as a problem that affects them personally. Photograph:  Matt Black/The New York Times

Worker takes a break in a garlic field in California: a survey has found Hispanics are far more likely than whites to view global warming as a problem that affects them personally. Photograph: Matt Black/The New York Times

 

Alfredo Padilla grew up in Texas as a migrant farmworker who followed the harvest with his parents to pick sugar beets in Minnesota each summer. He has not forgotten the aches of labour or how much the weather – too little rain, or too much – affected the family livelihood.

Now an insurance lawyer in Carrizo Springs, Texas, he said he was concerned about global warming. “It’s obviously happening, the flooding, the record droughts,” said Padilla, who agrees with the science that human activities are the leading cause of climate change. “And all this affects poor people harder. The jobs are more based on weather. And when there are hurricanes, when there is flooding, who gets hit the worst? The people on the poor side of town.”

Padilla’s concern is echoed by other Hispanics across the country, according to a poll conducted last month by the New York Times, Stanford University and the nonpartisan environmental research group Resources for the Future.

The survey, in which Padilla was a respondent, found that Hispanics are far more likely than whites to view global warming as a problem that affects them personally. It also found that they are far more likely to support policies, such as taxes and regulations on greenhouse gas pollution, aimed at curbing it.

The findings in the poll could have significant implications for the 2016 presidential campaign as both parties seek to win votes from Hispanics, the fastest-growing segment of the population, particularly in states such as Florida and Colorado that will be influential in determining the outcome of the election.

The poll also shows the challenge for the potential Republican presidential candidates – including two Hispanics – many of whom question or deny the science of human-caused climate change.

Extremely important

Among Hispanic respondents to the poll, 54 per cent rated global warming as extremely or very important to them personally, compared with 37 per cent of whites. Sixty-seven percent of Hispanics said they would be hurt personally to some degree if nothing was done to reduce global warming, compared with half of whites.

And 63 per cent of Hispanics said the federal government should act broadly to address global warming, compared with 49 per cent of whites. To be sure, more Hispanics than whites identify as Democrats, and Democrats are more likely than Republicans and independents to say that the government should fight climate change. In the poll, 48 per cent of Hispanics identified as Democrats, 31 per cent as independents and 15 per cent as Republicans. Among whites, 23 per cent identified as Democrats, 41 per cent as independents and 27 per cent as Republicans.

Overall, the findings of the poll run contrary to a longstanding view in politics that the environment is largely a concern of affluent, white liberals. Experts say that climate change is growing rapidly as a concern for Hispanics, who are likely to be more physically and economically vulnerable to the effects of global warming, such as more extreme droughts and floods, lower crop yields and hotter temperatures.

Stereotype

“There’s a stereotype that Latinos are not aware of or concerned about these issues,” said Gabriel Sanchez, a professor of political science at the University of New Mexico and director of research at Latino Decisions, a survey firm focused on the Hispanic population. “But Latinos are actually among the most concerned about the environment, particularly global warming.”

One reason, Sanchez and others said, is that Hispanics often live in areas where they are directly exposed to pollution, such as neighborhoods near highways and power plants. Hispanics typically rate immigration, education and employment in the top tier of the policy issues on which they vote, but the poll is the latest in a growing body of data showing that Hispanics also care intensely about environmental issues.

A 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 76 per cent of Hispanics agreed that the earth had been warming, and 59 per cent attributed that to human activity. By comparison, 62 per cent of whites agreed that the earth had been warming, and 41 per cent attributed that to human activity.

A 2014 study in the scientific journal PLOS One found that nationally, nonwhite minorities were exposed to concentrations of the toxic pollutant nitrogen dioxide that were 38 per cent higher than those whites faced. Nitrogen dioxide is linked to respiratory illness and is spewed from vehicle tailpipes and power plant smokestacks. While it is not directly linked to global warming, populations that experience high levels of exposure to it are likely to be more supportive of pollution regulation in general, Sanchez said. – (New York Times)

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