Despite the fact that Latinos have been hard hit by the recent recession, 65 percent believe the next generation will be better off than they are, according to an exclusive Fox News Latino poll of likely Latino voters.
This belief in a better future for the next generation undergirds Latino voter attitudes towards the country and the political parties, the poll shows.
“There is a steely strength to a typical immigrant,” says Vincent Parrillo, Professor of Sociology at William Patterson University. “The possibilities are more, the opportunities are better here, and they’ve put their faith in the new land they have come to.”
Parrillo believes the conscious decision to start a new life, by oneself or one's parents and grandparents, and the courage and determination it takes to do so, explains the optimism despite economic turmoil.
“That conscious decision compares to someone who has converted to a new faith. Someone who is a convert to a new faith is decidedly enthusiastic and more fervent in that conscious choice and when immigrants come here they are pursuing something that is called the American Dream.”
This Latino optimism comes at a time when, according to the same poll, 62 percent, nearly two thirds know someone who has been jobless and looking for work for six months or more, and 15 percent say they themselves have been unemployed and looking for work for the same amount of time.
From 2005 through 2009 Latinos have seen a 66 percent drop, the largest by any group, in median household wealth (all assets minus all debt) and the largest increase in the poverty rate from 20.6 to 26.6 percent. From 2006 to 2010 the Latino un-employment rate has gone from 6.3 percent at the start of the Recession to12 percent in January of 2011 down to a three year low of 10.5 percent in January of 2012.
In political terms, this optimism and determined belief in the American Dream, is playing out in surprising ways and may be helping President Obama and the Democratic Party.
According to the Fox News Latino poll, 60 percent of likely Latino voters believe that the Democrats will help them achieve the American Dream, while only 10 percent selected the Republican party.
President Obama is even more popular among likely Latino voters than his party.
Fifty-eight percent of Latinos approve of the way Obama is handling the economy, and likely Latino voters favor President Barack Obama by six-to-one over any of the Republican presidential hopefuls. The Fox News Latino poll found no Republican candidate garnering more than 14 percent of the Latino vote in a head to head match up with the President.
“Generally we always think that if your pocket book is hurt, you are going to punish the incumbent party,” said Todd Shields, Director of the Blair Center and Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Arkansas.“It’s surprising to see this kind of optimism.”
Shields believes Latino optimism may require scholars and political strategists to reconsider previous approaches during the upcoming presidential election.
"These people are worse off, but they are still more positive about where the country is going," he said. "It's tough to turn that into a vote against the incumbent party."
That's why Shields believes the Republican Party could still benefit from keeping the political conversation on the economy but they have to drive Latinos to the poll to vote for Republicans not against Obama.
"What might work is to say your optimism would be warranted, justified, or continue under a Republican administration," said Shields.
Ultimately, Shields says "the battle will be waged over who is going to deliver under this optimism.”
The Republican National Committee also believe that the economic situation over the last four years, not immigration rhetoric, will be a catalyst to push Latino Voters against Obama and toward the Republican nominee.
“Latinos have been hit disproportionately hard by the out-of-control spending, record debt, and higher gas prices of the Obama economy, and Republicans will offer the change in direction in Washington that will ensure the next generation can attain the American dream,” said Alexandra Franceschi, an RNC spokesperson.
But other Republicans see GOP mishandling of the issue of immigration as an obstacle to telling the economic story to Latino voters. "Latino unemployment could stay at 11 percent, foreclosures could skyrocket, and just because of that issue [immigration] they are going to go to Obama. Every time you talk badly about undocumented immigrants you are insulting all Latinos," said Alfonso Aguilar, Executive Director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles.
"Even though we have a good argument, because of the rhetoric on immigration, we squander this opportunity."
The Fox News Latino/Latin Insights poll was conducted by Latin Insights, a New York based independent research company, and compiled through a telephone survey conducted among a nationally representative sample of 1,200 likely Latino voters. The respondents were given the option of completing the survey in English and Spanish.
The margin of error for the poll is +/- 2.7 percent with 95 percent confidence.