In choosing Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as a vice presidential running mate, Mitt Romney went for a conservative whose views have generated controversy in recent months. (Photo/Getty Images)

VP nominee Ryan’s policies to the right of most Latino voters, polls show

In choosing Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as his vice presidential candidate, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney went for a politician who has had no problem taking on controversy.  Ryan made national headlines earlier this year as the architect of a budget proposal which would significantly cut existing government programs to bring down government spending.   While Latino Republican politicians like Florida Senator Marco Rubio have enthusiastically endorsed the Ryan choice, a look at national Latino polls show most Hispanic registered voters – including Republican  Latinos – do not share Ryan’s “starve the beast,” and “cut government spending at all costs” philosophy.

“The polling data is consistent with the fact that Latino voters tend to be more supportive of higher taxes on the wealthy and more government spending to address economic problems,” says Latino Decisions political scientist Sylvia Manzano.

“I don’t think Ryan’s nomination does anything right now to hurt or help Romney’s standing with Latinos, but it highlights the clear differences between the candidates and the parties on what is the right path to lower the deficit and what economic policies to pursue,” Manzano adds.

On the economy

A recent NBC News/WSJ/Telemundo poll found 43 percent of registered Hispanic voters thought the Bush tax cuts were bad for the economy, versus 21 percent who thought they were good for the economy.  And an April 2012 Pew Hispanic poll found 75 percent of Latinos say they would rather have a bigger government providing more services than a smaller government with fewer services.  This included Hispanics from both parties, and is in sharp contrast to the general public; only 41 percent of Americans support a larger government role.

While Ryan’s proposal to reduce the deficit relies only on spending cuts and not on any tax increases, a Latino Decisions poll found 43 percent of Florida Latinos, including registered Republicans, believe the combination of raising taxes as well as government cuts is the best way to tackle the national debt.

On immigration

On immigration, Ryan voted “no” on the Dream Act in 2010 and is in line with Romney’s immigration policies.   On the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, Ryan’s views are different from many Cuban voters in Florida who support the existing embargo; he voted three times to lift it.

Ryan’s budget proposal stirred much controversy when it first came out earlier this year.  In May, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a letter to Congress strongly denouncing Ryan’s proposal to cut the Child Tax Credit to immigrant families.   The bishops said it was “unfair” to exclude immigrant children.  “The bishops’ conference has long supported the Child Tax Credit because it is pro-work, pro-family, and one of the most effective antipoverty programs in our nation,” the letter said.

On government programs

In a Latino Decisions 2011 national tracking poll of Latino registered voters, only 30 percent of Republican Hispanics said cutting existing government programs would be the best way to reduce the national debt. And in Florida, a swing state where Latino voters are considered a significant portion of the electorate, only 11 percent of registered Hispanic voters approved of cutting programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

The U.S. Conference on Bishops also denounced the cuts to the supplemental nutrition assistance program, known as SNAP, or what used to be called food stamps.  “It is estimated that cuts proposed in this bill would deny assistance to two million families, and cut the benefit for everyone else,” say the Catholic leaders in the letter sent to Congress.  “No poor family that receives food assistance would be unaffected, constituting a direct threat to their human dignity.”

Latino Democrats were quick to denounce Romney’s vice presidential choice.  Arizona Democratic congressman Raul Grijalva says it shows  “the Republican Party’s decline from a party of ideas and tradition to a vehicle for radical, unpopular schemes designed to help the few and hurt the many.”  New Jersey senator Bob Menendez said the Romney-Ryan ticket is a “stark choice” and he strongly criticized Ryan’s budget, which includes more than one trillion dollars in cuts to Medicaid, as well as plans to change Medicare to a voucher system based on income.

Ryan’s philosophy appeals to those who have long criticized the looming deficit. Naomi Lopez Bauman, an independent public policy consultant who describes herself as a libertarian, says she likes Ryan’s overall philosophy on economic issues, and “respects anyone willing to take a hard look at spending programs and be courageous enough to talk about the need to cut government programs, which no politician wants to discuss.”

On social issues

In terms of social issues, while many Latinos might be personally against abortion, 64 percent of Latinos were in favor of religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals being required to provide their employees birth control at no cost, as part of the new health care legislation in a recent poll on religious and social values.   Ryan came out strongly against employer-mandated coverage on birth control, and he was the co-sponsor of a bill that calls for “full personhood” at the moment of fertilization, with no exceptions on disability, stage of development or defect.

Almost eight-in-ten Latinos (79 percent) support contraception, and 85 percent of Hispanics believe in expanding access to birth control for women who don’t currently have it.  Ryan voted against providing birth control for federal employees and has voted against federally funded programs which make contraception available; he also voted against Planned Parenthood.

Looking toward November

Latino Republican politicians are publicly lining up behind the Romney-Ryan ticket. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said recently that Ryan “brings a lot of charisma and energy and fiscal sanity to this broken system in D.C.”

The question is whether the Ryan choice will help bring more Latinos to the Republican party, or will his ideology be more of a stumbling block as the GOP tries to engage Latino voters three months before the election.

“Ryan has taken leadership and ownership on issues such as cutting programs and lowering taxes,” says Latino Decisions’ Manzano. “To the extent people care about or benefit from these government programs, the choices between the parties are made clearer.”

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