Hispanic voters tend to identify themselves as Democrats rather than Republicans by more than a 2-to-1 margin, says a new nonpartisan poll that indicates the Hispanic support for the Democrats is broad but shallow.

"I think it does suggest that despite some strong preferences for the Democratic Party, Hispanic voters are in play when a Republican candidate appeals to them,'' said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, which sponsored the poll.

The Hispanic voter survey showed that half, 49 percent, consider themselves Democrats; one-fifth, 20 percent, consider themselves Republicans; and another fifth, 19 percent, consider themselves independents.

The poll, which included 1,329 Hispanic voters, was taken between April 4 and June 11 has an error margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

When Hispanic voters were asked which party they have confidence in when it comes to dealing with the economy, they picked Democrats by a 2-1 margin. However, when they were given a choice between President Bush and Democrats in Congress on handling the economy, they split evenly.

"The president has exceeded our expectations in carrying his popularity to the Hispanic community,'' said Al Cardenas, chairman of the Florida Republican Party, who advises the national party's efforts to bring Hispanic voters into the fold.

Cardenas said the Republican Party has an opening because of Bush's popularity and has been changing its communications operation to reach that community, as well as attempting to recruit more Hispanic candidates.

"The last phase is institutionalizing that support beyond individuals,'' Cardenas said. "We're not necessarily there yet.''

Democrats are working to prevent the GOP from making inroads in the quickly growing Hispanic community, which caught up with the black population in the last census. That growing population doesn't automatically translate into votes, but the GOP, led by President Bush, is very aware of Hispanics.

"Republicans are desperately trying to play catch-up to Democrats' successful outreach efforts,'' said Guillermo Meneses, who heads Hispanic outreach for the Democratic National Committee. "They can't achieve in a two-year period what we have achieved over a 20- to 30-year period.''

Cardenas said he recognizes that Republicans won't be able to make major headway in the short term, but the party is going to be in the competition for the Hispanics over the long haul.

The major improvements have been the president's personal appeal to Hispanics, especially Hispanic men, he said, and the party's effort to improve communications with the Hispanic community — in television and radio shows targeted to Hispanics, and with GOP literature in Spanish. Cardenas said the party has gotten better at recruiting Hispanic candidates, but needs to do more.

Democrat Meneses acknowledges that "the president is a likable person, a popular figure who has made connections with Hispanics and other groups.

"But how does the party reconcile having a president who is a likable figure, but a fundamentally right-wing party that has clearly not done a good job of embracing Hispanic values and the concerns and interests of the Latino community.''

The poll found that education was clearly the No. 1 issue for Hispanic voters, with the economy running a distant second. They felt by a 2-to-1 margin that illegal immigrants help the economy by providing low-cost labor. Non-Hispanics felt by the same margin that illegal immigrants hurt the economy by driving wages down.

Almost nine in 10 Hispanics said they favored a proposal that would give those immigrants a chance to become legal residents. Non-Hispanics favor that policy, but not by such an overwhelming margin.

The Bush administration was pushing changes in immigration laws that were popular with the Hispanic community, but such measures have been a tougher sell in Congress since the terrorist attacks a year ago.

———

Hispanic voters are more inclined to consider themselves Democrats, says a new poll by the Pew Hispanic Center, but that loyalty is somewhat shallow. The poll found that Hispanic voters often don't fit neatly into the party ideology, which could make them a very mobile voting bloc in future years.

The poll, which included 1,329 Hispanic voters, was taken between April 4 and June 11 has an error margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Among the poll's other findings:

—When Hispanic voters were asked which political party has more concern for Hispanics, 45 percent said Democrats, 10 percent said Republicans and 40 percent said there was no difference.

—When Hispanic voters were asked about the language of the news programs they follow on radio and TV, 53 percent said predominantly English, 19 percent said predominantly Spanish and 27 percent said both languages about equally.

—Hispanic voters are slightly more opposed to abortion than non-Hispanic whites.

—Hispanic voters were more likely to say they would rather pay higher taxes to support a larger government that provides more services, while non-Hispanic whites were more likely to say they preferred lower taxes and smaller government.