Why you should care
Because America’s growing number of religiously unaffliated Latinos could have some significant political consquences, particularly for the GOP.
Now that the Republicans will control Congress for the next couple of years, the GOP is unlikely to tackle its so-called “Hispanic problem,” anytime soon. (Indeed, the Party is lining up against President Obama’s recent immigration order.) Until recently, another group — largely white and male — also struggled to increase the number of Latinos in its ranks: America’s religiously unaffiliated.
The number of Hispanic American “nones” — those who say they have no particular religion, or are atheist or agnostic — is growing at a clip that would make GOP operatives green with envy. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 National Survey of Latinos and Religion, 18 percent of Hispanics are not affiliated with any religion.
Put differently, almost one in five Hispanics now say they have no religious affiliation — almost as many as the approximately one in four who identify as Republican (many of whom are Cuban Americans).
And the ranks of the Hispanic nones are growing quickly, nearly doubling from 10 percent in 2010, with the most pronounced jump occurring among younger Latinos. A whopping 31 percent of those aged 18–29 say they are religiously unaffiliated, about two-thirds the number of those who say they are Catholic (45 percent).
Only a fraction of the Hispanic nones identify as “atheist” (68 percent of all nones believe in God), but the growth in the number of nones mirrors a larger national trend: According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 17.8 percent of all Americans said they were nonreligious.
The growth of the Hispanic nones, experts say, represents a “catching up” to the broader U.S. trend, particularly among younger Hispanics. “It used to be that Latino identity meant a Catholic identity,” Hector Avalos, a professor of religious studies at Iowa State University, told the Religious News Service. “That is no longer the case.”
The trend also means that the number of Hispanic nones has now surpassed those who say they are evangelical Protestants (16 percent), which could have some significant political consequences, particularly for Republicans. For example, according to the 2013 Hispanic Values Survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, 80 percent of Hispanic nones favored same-sex marriage, while only 21 percent of Hispanic evangelicals did. A similar gap exists when it comes to abortion (69 versus 25 percent) and other social issues.
So while Hispanics may not be lining up to buy the latest Richard Dawkins book, the growth of the left-leaning Latino nones suggests that the Republican Party’s “Hispanic problem” has yet another obstacle to overcome. And given broader trends, it may not be long before the real question facing the GOP is how to address its “nones problem.”
*This piece was originally published June 18, 2014, and was updated on November 27, 2014.