WASHINGTON, D.C. — The stereotype of the 32 million Latino voters in the United States — that they are monolithic, focused only on immigration issues, are predictably Democratic and Catholic — has a stubborn life, but the reality is much different.

And politicians are considerably ahead of the public in this realization.

That was the conclusion of an online panel discussing the future of Latinos in political discourse, sponsored by Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life Feb. 17.

Part of the misperception comes from poor voter turnout, said Ana Gonzalez-Berrera, a researcher at the Pew Research Center.

“In 2020, we projected that a record number of 32 million Latinos were going to be able to vote in 2020. And this, for the first time, made them the largest minority group in the U.S., surpassing Black Americans for the first time in the voting population,” she said. “However, historically, Latinos have not gotten out and voted. … They are eligible to vote, many of them, but less than half end up casting a ballot (on) Election Day.”

As for why Latinos are not a predictable voting bloc, one reason is “because they’re so young,” Gonzalez-Berrera said.

“Young people tend to be less engaged in politics and the other thing is where we found … the bigger populations of Latinos and where they have the most importance are states” such as New Mexico, she said. Just two states, Florida and Arizona, received the most attention to Latinos during the 2020 campaign, she added.

Another stereotype-buster: “Less than half of Latinos are Catholic, and Catholics tend to be — or align themselves more — with the Democratic Party. But those who are Protestant, particularly evangelical, are more likely to align themselves with the Republican Party,” Gonzalez-Berrera said.

Maria de Lourdes Valencia, associate director of the Culture of Life office in the Diocese of San Diego, thinks it’s characteristic of Catholic Latinos to vote with their conscience.

“So if they have a good conscience which requires a lifelong formation, they will consider the principles of human life and dignity, solidarity and the common good when they vote,” she said. “They will select candidates and policies that represent their principles.”

Luis Fraga, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame, pointed out that the baseline support for Republican candidates among Latino voters hasn’t changed that much.

“If you average out Republican support in presidential elections back to 1972, 28.4% of Latinos vote for any Republican presidential candidate. It’s not a monolithic vote and never has been,” he observed.

If exit polling showing that President Donald Trump received 32% of Latino votes can be trusted, “that’s just a few percentage (points) above what you would normally expect,” he said.

Sabrina Rodríguez, a reporter for Politico, said she’d noticed that Trump was able to make inroads among Latino women just on the issue of abortion “because they made a very conscientious effort to focus on them. Even in South Texas … I recently did a story about Hispanic GOP women trying to get people on board, and one of the issues they’re more focused on is the issue of abortion because they know there are many people who care about that.”

Gabby Trejo, executive director of Sacramento Area Congregations Together, which is an affiliate of Faith in Action, said that as an organizer mostly of Latino immigrants, “of all the issues we have identified as a community is really this fight for freedom of being recognized as children of God, to be recognized … with our full dignity. And that takes us on this pathway to fight for housing.

“When the pandemic started in the summer of 2020, we started doing what we called in community organizing a listening campaign and talked to over 300 … Latino residents and asked … what are some of the things they were facing,” Trejo said. “And housing was the No. 1 issue, the anxiety of not knowing if they were going to be able to keep their jobs, and then safety.

“Our folks decided that we weren’t going to wait for the city or the county or the state to save us (and) decided to take it upon ourselves to raise money to help undocumented immigrants in our region to ensure that we can help them pay for their rent. ”

She concluded, “And so I would say all the issues we’ve taken on … have been very much driven by this appetite to claim their identity of who God created them to be.”

Trejo also addressed the challenges politicians must address in appearing before what she called “low-propensity voters.”

“That requires that elected officials, politicians, go out and engage people where they are at,” she explained. “And so calling, you know, using the voter registration phone list is not enough, because … that doesn’t generate a list, an accurate list of where our people are.”