Growing Latino Gender Differences on Key Policy Issues

By Christina Bejarano

Originally posted at

We continue to witness the very emotional and controversial debates over several key issues, including ‘women’s issues’ and immigration policy. This is especially evident at the wake of President Obama’s announcement of executive action on immigration. As we look to the key issues that will motivate Latinos to participate in politics, it is important to understand differences across gender.

We cannot assume that all Latinos will share a common attitude on the significant political issues of the day. What issues will persuade Latinos to provide the crucial electoral support to either political party or political candidate? I am interested in answering these questions in terms of variation among Latinos based on gender. How do Latino male and female attitudes differ? It is especially imperative that political officials and political parties understand how their policy and electoral strategies influence the Latino community.

In the United States since the 1980s, women generally hold more liberal policy positions than men. In terms of specific policy views, women are often more supportive of a more activist role for government, more supportive of affirmative action and efforts to achieve racial equality, and more supportive of programs to guarantee quality health care and meet basic human needs (CAWP 1997). Based on this gender trend, we would expect Latinas to also demonstrate a modern gender gap, with more liberal political views than their male counterparts. However, previous researchers have generally found few gender differences for racial/ethnic minority preferences. This includes few gender differences on the most politically salient issues for particular racial/ethnic or gender groups. Instead, the greatest influence on Latino public opinion is generally whether they were born in the United States or the amount of time they have lived in the country (Sanchez 2006). Latinos who have been in the U.S. for shorter amounts of time are generally more likely to support public policies that will help allocate funding to those in need. More recent research finds that there are small gender differences on Latino views on gender issues, with Latinas expressing more support for policies that will help promote gender equality in the U.S.

In the two most recent elections, 2012 and 2014, Latinos identified the most important issues facing the Latino community as the economy, immigration reform, education, and healthcare (Election Eve Polls). The set of policy issues do not change dramatically across both elections, except for the top issue changing from the economy in 2012 to immigration reform in 2014. The gender differences are also minor, with slightly more Latinas reporting that health care and education are important to the Latino community, compared to Latino males who were more likely to choose immigration reform.


In my book, The Latino Gender Gap in U.S. PoliticsI found Latinos generally support more liberal policy views, with Latinas generally more liberal than Latino men. The policy areas include gender related issues, reach of government policies (government income support, support the Affordable Care Act continuing as law) and Immigration-Related policies (such as disapproval of workplace raids). A key set of government policies relate to the debate over immigration reform. This set of policies address the support for President Obama given his potential to impact immigration policy. In June 2012, President Obama introduced a deferred action policy for undocumented youth. Latinos generally reported feeling more enthusiastic (53 percent) about Obama after his deferred action policy announcement rather than less enthusiastic (9 percent) (2012 Election Eve Poll). While, 33 percent of Latinos responded that their enthusiasm for Obama was not affected after his June 2012 announcement. There was also a gender gap in the responses, with Latinas showing more enthusiasm for Obama after his announcement compared to Latino males.

More recently, Latinos were asked about their potential enthusiasm for the Democratic Party if President Obama was able to issue an executive order on immigration in 2014. Incidentally, Latinos were asked this question on the eve of the 2014 midterm election, which was actually a couple of weeks before President Obama’s historic announcement of executive action on immigration. Again, Latinos report feeling more enthusiastic (58%) about the Democratic Party if President Obama were to issue an executive order on immigration in 2014 (2014 Election Eve Poll). In terms of gender, more Latinas report they will feel enthusiasm for the Democratic Party after the executive order, compared to the Latino males.


The battle over health-care is also particularly salient for Latinos, given their higher likelihood of being uninsured (29.1 percent in 2012) compared to the general population (15.4 percent) (U.S. Census 2013). The first policy is a measure of Latino support for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (2012 Election Eve Poll). A majority of Latinos, 66 percent, support allowing Obama’s Affordable Care Act to continue to stand as law. In addition, the majority of Latinos (66%) believe that when it comes to access to health care, the federal government should play a role to ensure that all people have access to health insurance. More recently, the majority of Latinos also believe their respective states (TX, FL, GA, KS, and NC) should accept federal money to expand the Medicaid program so that more low-income people have access to health insurance (2014 Election Eve Poll). In terms of gender, more Latinas (70%) than Latino males (62%) agree the government should ensure access to health insurance. While more Latino males than Latinas support the Affordable Care Act continuing as law and expanding the Medicaid program.

Figure_3 Bejarano

The majority of Latinos also generally support several other key policies that include a greater reach of government. The majority of Latinos, 78%, favor raising the federal minimum wage from 7.25 to 10.10 an hour. In terms of the environment, 84% of Latinos also believe it is important that the federal government take measures to reduce carbon pollution that is causing global warming or climate change. Across these two issues, Latinas also report higher levels of support than Latino males.

Overall, the results can be linked to Latinos’ depth of support for more liberal public policies, which was especially true for Latinas. In fact, the polling of Latinos throughout the 2012 and 2014 elections, demonstrated there is a significant gender gap in support of the more liberal public policies. In terms of which party to trust on ‘women’s issues’, Latinas also had an overwhelming support for the Democrats over the Republicans in 2012, 78% compared to 13% (Manzano 2012). As a result of Latinas’ increased support of more liberal public policies, they may also be more likely than Latino males to support the Democratic Party and their candidates. It is imperative that the political parties devise new strategies to appeal to the very diverse Latino electorate. They should also be determined to focus on Latinas as a key group of Latino voters. This post builds on a series of blogs I have written focused on Latinas, including a recent discussion of the partisan gap among Latinos based on gender.

 Christina Bejarano is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Kansas. Her book entitled The Latino Gender Gap in U.S. Politics (2014) was published by Routledge Press.

A Real Cuba Breakthrough Is Tied to Congressional Action


by Brian Alexander

President Obama has announced “a new course on Cuba,” timed to the release of USAID contractor Alan Gross who was imprisoned by the Cuban government since December 2009. Headlines and editorials are suggesting the policy shift is “ushering in a transformational era” and that it “dismantles an artifact of the Cold War”. The president’s new policies and assertion that decades of isolation are “a failed approach,” coupled with the unprecedented phone call between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, suggests a historic shift in tone and possibly a new direction in US-Cuba relations.

However, before we all line up to buy vacation condos in Cuba, the President’s move only partially lifts U.S. sanctions, promises shifts in diplomatic relations and bilateral cooperation, eases only some commercial and travel restrictions, and renews the U.S. commitment to supporting democracy in Cuba. Most important, despite enthusiastic claims that “sanctions are coming to an end,” U.S. law prohibits the president from lifting the embargo. The 1996 Cuban Liberty and Solidarity Act (a.k.a. “Helms-Burton” after its sponsors), passed in the wake of the Cuban shoot down of two U.S.-based Brothers to the Rescue airplanes, codified the executive orders that comprised the majority of the embargo and added additional requirements that Cuba must meet for the embargo to end.

While the executive branch still has substantial flexibility, a real end to U.S. isolation of Cuba can only come with Congressional action. And that’s not likely to happen. Given congressional gridlock, divided government, and the fact that embargo supporters occupy key positions in each chamber, it is unlikely that the Republican-lead Congress is likely to follow the president’s lead. Moreover, an ambitious policy proposal, such as ending the decades-old embargo, late in the president’s second term and in the context of divided government is an uphill battle. Already, key House and Senate members of the GOP are denouncing the president’s move. Some may point to the shifting landscape of domestic politics on Cuba among Cuban-Americans and the general public and to evidence of a bipartisan majority in Congress for easing Cuba sanctions. But these facts are not lost on Congressional embargo supporters who will actively try to prevent such votes from occurring. Congressional scholars will detect a context ripe for negative agenda control, based on a combination of majority party leadership and a small number of highly mobilized Representatives and Senators blocking moves to end the embargo.

What’s more, there is a still a long way between a handshake and a phone call and a substantive breakthrough on key sticking points in US-Cuba relations. Issues such as human rights and confiscated U.S. properties remain priorities for the United States and the Cuban posture regarding Venezuela and North Korea, for example, suggest deep divides between the two countries. For his part, Cuban President Raul Castro statement on the breakthrough contained strong preconditions for greater progress, including a call for a full end to “el bloqueo” (the blockade), as the embargo is known in Cuba. If the recent developments suggest a ray of sunshine in the U.S.-Cuba relationship, it is peeking through a sky full of grey clouds.

Moreover, given the history of Cuban responses to US ovations toward Cuba, optimists should be wary that the Cuban government might do something provocative. For example, the Mariel boatlift in 1980, the Brothers to the Rescue shoot-down in 1996, the Havana Spring dissident roundup in 2003, and even the jailing of Alan Gross in 2009 all followed moves in the United States toward rapprochement. Will Cuba bite again? If so, Congress will likely be even more intransigent and President Obama, having extended his hand, would not be the first American leader to regret his gesture.

Brian Alexander is a doctoral candidate in political science at George Mason University.  His research is on Congress, parties, and interest groups and his dissertation looks at the utilization of conference committees.  Brian’s professional experience includes work in foreign policy non-profits, political consulting, and federal agencies. His publications include works on reform of the intelligence community and nuclear nonproliferation.

Loretta Lynch: Shock Absorber for the Administration

by Nancy Kassop

No baggage, easy ride to a quick and uncontroversial confirmation – these were some of the initial assumptions underlying President Obama’s November 8th announcement of the nomination of Loretta Lynch as his choice to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General. As the current U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Lynch has been confirmed by the Senate – twice! (appointed in 2000 under Clinton and in 2010 under Obama) and unanimously – for her present position. Moreover, she asked the incoming George W. Bush administration in 2001 if she could remain in the position, indicating her willingness to serve under a Republican president, although Bush did not reappoint her.

Within five days of Obama’s nomination of her as Attorney General, however, Republicans began to lay out the areas of inquiry for her confirmation hearings, and it became clear that there would be a central focus on the scope of executive power.

Now, less than two weeks after her nomination, the stakes have heightened even more dramatically, as a result of Republican fury over the president’s November 20th announcement of his executive actions on immigration. Some Republican senators, such as Raul Labrador (R-ID), are calling not merely for questioning Lynch about her positions on the constitutionality and legality of the president’s new actions, but suggesting, instead, that her confirmation hearings be postponed indefinitely, as one possible avenue of retaliation against the president: in essence, they would hold her nomination hostage until some accord could be reached with the president on immigration. Labrador suggested in an NPR interview that incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “should say, first thing tomorrow morning, that he will not allow any appointments that this administration has made. So, there will be no hearings on the new attorney general… There will be no hearing on anything this president wants and that he needs.”

There was little doubt that Republican senators would scrutinize Lynch’s legal opinions intensely at the hearings as to whether she believed that the president had such authority. As early as the day of her nomination, Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) released a joint statement that “Loretta Lynch deserves the opportunity to demonstrate… whether or not she believes the president’s executive amnesty plans are constitutional and legal.”

So, there is no surprise that Lynch’s hearings will provide the exquisite vehicle for the president’s opponents to vent their rage at him, to question her on her position on the use of executive authority in a whole variety of contexts, and to position her as their personal punching bag for all of the deep disdain they felt towards her predecessor and the policies he championed and oversaw. From what might have been a relatively smooth and speedy confirmation process, the tables have turned to suggest that the process may be, at worst, delayed, and, at best, fraught with razor-sharp tensions for a candidate whose professional career has been described as one marked by “independence, integrity and fairness.” As Politico summed it up, the confirmation hearings may be used “as a proxy war over presidential power rather than a debate over Lynch’s qualifications.”  It quoted a Senate Republican aide saying “Don’t underestimate the capacity for that to become a major battle front.”

Confirmability was, indeed, one of the primary objectives for Obama in this selection: all of the other candidates on the short list for this nomination had some feature that seemed all too likely to raise its ugly head as an obstacle to confirmation. Kathryn Ruemmler, the former White House Counsel and Obama’s personal preference for this position, given the closeness of the working relationship between a counsel and a president and her past work on every high-profile legal policy of the administration, was much too risky: one would think that presidents might learn from their predecessors (but, apparently not) that nominating a former White House staff member to a cabinet position will undoubtedly result in uncomfortable tussles with the Senate Judiciary Committee over demands for White House documents from the nominee’s work there that he or she is bound to resist under predictable claims of executive privilege. The administration was probably relieved, though disappointed at the same time, when Ruemmler chose in late October to take her name out of the running.

The other two names floated as likely contenders, Donald Verrilli, the current solicitor general, and Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, had obvious drawbacks: Verrilli has been the face of the administration when defending its positions in cases before the Supreme Court, especially, on the Affordable Care Act and on marriage equality, and Perez endured a rough and lengthy confirmation hearing for his present position: Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) characterized him as “a committed ideologue who appears willing, quite frankly, to say or do anything to achieve his ideological ends.”

Once it became clear that Ruemmler was out of the running, Lynch’s star began to rise. She was always viewed as having a solid, professional resume and as someone who was well-respected, even by Republicans (former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani told Politico “If I were in the Senate, I would confirm her…she is so much better than what they [the next Republican Senate] thought they were going to get.”. Not insignificant is the “added value” she would bring, as an African-American woman who could continue Holder’s personal outreach to minority communities in ways that have eluded the president.

Lynch has had a close relationship with Holder, stretching back to when she was first appointed to the U.S. Attorney position at the end of the Clinton administration and she reported directly to Holder, the then-sitting Deputy Attorney General, and more recently, as a member and, then, chair of Holder’s 20-member Advisory Committee, the group that advises the attorney general on policy. Thus, she is no stranger to her predecessor, has worked intimately with him on the policies that he and the department implemented, and she would presumably carry on much of the Holder agenda (strong civil rights enforcement, criminal justice reform, litigation against voter ID laws and against dilution of Voting Rights Act protections, commitment to terrorism trials in federal civilian courts, and refusal to defend DOMA in federal cases). But she would also be a much-needed “fresh face” for the last two years of an administration that has all too often elevated from within its own tight circle.

For the president’s critics, immigration will be front and center in their questioning of Lynch, but it will be accompanied by aggressive probing into other highly politicized matters left over from the Holder era, such as the Justice Department’s mishandling of the gun trafficking operation by ATF agents, known as Fast and Furious, that prompted the House to cite Holder for contempt in June 2012, and for which previously held documents have just started to be released; inquiries as to why the department failed to pursue the IRS/Tea Party scandal and, also, failed to hold accountable many of the institutions responsible for the financial crisis; and controversy over the department’s challenges to voter ID laws.

Added to all of these will also be the long-simmering issue over the administration’s approach to the detention and trial of terror suspects, a continuing source of conflict where Holder has been a high-profile defender of the use of federal civilian criminal courts for such trials, and Lynch’s own office has prosecuted more terrorism cases in federal courts than any other district in the country.

There may be an ultimate showdown at the point when the president will need to decide whether to sign the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015, if it continues to contain, as have NDAAs in previous years, prohibitions on bringing Guantanamo prisoners to mainland U.S. for detention or trials. A possible scenario could be either a presidential veto of the defense bill or signing it but appending a signing statement, followed by an executive order to close Guantanamo.

Given the president’s visible impatience with Congress and his recognition that executive action will be the only way he may be able to accomplish the goals he wishes to complete before leaving office, one can assume he will “go for broke” and forge ahead.

The fight over whether the president had authority to use executive actions on immigration reform might pale in comparison to a parallel contest over his authority to close Guantanamo. Lynch will be in the hot seat on all of these issues: satisfying the president’s critics, if and when given the chance, will require a virtuoso performance.

Nancy Kassop is professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at SUNY New Paltz. She writes on issues at the intersection of law and politics. Her most recent articles are “Executive Branch Legal Analysis for National Security Policy: Who Controls Access to Legal Memos?” Presidential Studies Quarterly (Vol. 44:2), June 2014; and “Pro: Resolved, Presidents Have Usurped the War Power that Rightfully Belongs to Congress,” in Richard Ellis and Michael Nelson, eds., Debating the Presidency: Conflicting Perspectives on the American Presidency, 3rd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage/CQ Press, 2014)