Thursday, June 19, 2003

Democrats aren’t suffering politically among Hispanic voters for blocking the nomination of Miguel Estrada to an appeals court seat, according to a new poll out this week.

“The Hispanic electorate doesn’t care. They don’t know about it, they are not well informed and they don’t consider it to be an important issue,” said Sergio Bendixen, a Miami-based Democratic pollster who conducted a survey of 800 Hispanic voters for the New Democrat Network.

Democrats are filibustering Mr. Estrada’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and Republicans are hoping political pressure from Hispanics will cause Democrats to relent.

Mr. Bendixen’s poll found that 28 percent of Hispanics support the nomination, while 11 percent opposed it and 61 percent weren’t aware of the nomination or didn’t have an opinion.

He said that, based on listening to some of the poll interviews, it was clear many of those who supported Mr. Estrada were also confusing him with actor Erik Estrada, who was on the 1977-1983 television police drama “CHiPS” and is now a popular Spanish-language soap-opera star.

“Many of them think President Bush nominated Erik Estrada — I’d say a good third think that way,” Mr. Bendixen said, adding that he heard one person say Mr. Estrada should be confirmed because he did such a good job playing a policeman on “CHiPS.”

Republicans’ own numbers confirm that most Hispanics aren’t aware of the situation. A poll released last week of 800 Hispanics, taken by Alexandria-based Latino Opinions and not limited to registered voters, showed that just one-third were aware the Estrada nomination is pending and being blocked.

But when told about it, 80 percent said it was important to the Hispanic community that he be confirmed. Some Republicans expect Mr. Estrada’s nomination will have to wait until closer to the 2004 election for his plight to become widely known.

Sharon Castillo, deputy director of communications for the Republican National Committee, said she can’t believe Hispanics aren’t aware of Mr. Estrada.

“The Estrada story has been alive now for over two years,” she said. “Latinos are very much aware of who he is, what his credentials are.”

Mr. Bendixen’s survey found that Mr. Bush’s popularity among Hispanic voters has slipped significantly over the last year.

The poll found that Mr. Bush would receive 34 percent Hispanic support against an unnamed Democratic opponent — down from the high of 44 percent he polled in May 2002. The 34 percent is about the same as the 35 percent of the actual Hispanic vote he received in the 2000 election.

“The president of the United States has an important credibility problem with Hispanic Americans,” Mr. Bendixen said, citing numbers that show nearly 70 percent think Mr. Bush has failed to keep his word to make Latin American policy a priority and to complete an immigration agreement.

Ms. Castillo, though, said the administration is still in negotiations with Mexico on immigration accords, and she said Republicans in Congress have also advanced bills to create a guest-worker program.

Still, Hispanic voters who no longer support Mr. Bush haven’t gone to the Democrats — most of them are now undecided, Mr. Bendixen said.

His poll showed an unnamed Democratic opponent to Mr. Bush polling at 48 percent — far below the mid-60s figure Democrats believe they need among Hispanics to win overall.

Mr. Bush’s personal image rating slipped, now at 60 percent, down from 76 percent in May 2002 — but high nonetheless. Mr. Bendixen said that underscored the personal emotional bond the president has established with the Hispanic community.

“Those who think the Hispanic vote is part of our base are just wrong,” the Democratic pollster said. “The Hispanic vote is one of the most important swing votes in American politics.”

Mr. Bendixen’s poll also found that for the first time, a majority of Hispanic voters were born outside the United States, with one-fifth of the overall number being born in Mexico.

The Census Bureau released new demographic numbers yesterday showing that the Hispanic population in the United States continued to grow at a quick pace and it now outnumbers the black population.

As of July 2002, Hispanics numbered 38.8 million, up 3.5 million, or 10 percent, from April 2000. The total U.S. population rose 2.5 percent to 288 million.

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