February 24, 2015 | By Dina Smeltz, Craig Kafura

Latinos and the Future of US Foreign Policy

Hispanic Americans are a large and swiftly-growing segment of the US population. As the Latino population grows in size and political strength, its political leadership is likely to hold greater sway over US domestic and foreign policy. For this reason, The Chicago Council decided to investigate how Latino foreign policy views compare to those of other Americans as part of the annual 2014 Chicago Council Survey of American public opinion on US foreign policy. The full report on Hispanics and Foreign Policy is now available, and will be released in DC, Chicago, and Miami.
While some Americans worry that this demographic change will change certain values, including in foreign policy, this survey reveals that Latinos share a very similar worldview with the larger US public.
  • Like the overall US public, Latinos favor strong US leadership in the world and think the United States is the most influential country today and in ten years’ time.
  • Hispanic Americans and non-Hispanics alike consider terrorism, nuclear proliferation, Iran’s nuclear program and cyber-attacks to be top threats facing the United States.
  • Majorities of both groups agree on the appropriate times to use military force (for humanitarian purposes, to combat terrorism, and to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon).
  • The top foreign policy goal for Latinos and non-Latinos is to protect American jobs.
Despite these commonalities, there are some key differences between Latinos and other Americans, especially on the topics of immigration, climate change, and the United Nations.
Climate Change: Hispanics More Concerned
A majority of Hispanic Americans consider climate change to be a critical threat to US vital interests (54%), compared to only 32 percent of non-Hispanics. In addition, slightly more Hispanics (54%) than non-Hispanics (49%) say the US government is not doing enough on climate change. Hispanics (55%) are more likely than non-Hispanics (41%) to favor expanding the federal budget for environmental protection, and are more likely to say that limiting climate change is a very important goal (47% vs. 40% non-Latinos). 

In part, this emphasis on climate change is related to the relatively younger composition of the Latino population compared to the US population as a whole. Younger Americans are more likely than older Americans to view climate change as a critical threat. However, analysis shows that age is not the only factor—being Latino also has a unique influence on views of climate change. According to experts we consulted, these differences are a result of personal experiences: Latinos are likely to be closer to communities that are hard hit by natural disasters caused by climate change and are in close touch with family members in countries that are more commonly affected by natural disasters.
On Immigration, Hispanics Unthreatened; Favor Path to Citizenship
Another clear difference emerges on immigration. Given that half of all adult Hispanics were born in another country according to the Pew Hispanic Center, it is perhaps not surprising that Latinos are far less likely than non-Latinos to consider “large numbers of immigrants and refugees entering the United States” a critical threat (22% Latinos vs. 42% of non-Latinos). Latinos are also far less likely to say that “controlling and reducing illegal immigration” is a very important goal for the United States (50% vs. 34% Latinos).

Results from a 2013 Chicago Council Survey found that eight in ten Hispanics (79%) and two-thirds of non-Hispanics (66%) think that illegal immigrants currently working in the United States should be allowed to stay in their jobs, either with a path to citizenship (51% Hispanics, 52% non-Hispanics) or with a work permit alone (28% Hispanics; 14% non-Hispanics).
Beneath this shared support, however, there are some clear differences in Latino and non-Latino views on immigration, especially on the president’s November 2014 executive action on immigration. That executive action, which dramatically expanded the population of undocumented immigrants eligible for deferred action and employment authorization, is far more popular among Hispanics than non-Hispanics. A December 2014 Pew Research Center survey found that among Hispanics, eight in ten (81%) approve of executive action, with six in ten (59%) strongly approving. But among non-Hispanics, only four in ten (41%) approve, and half (49%) say they strongly disapprove.
Hispanics View United Nations More Favorably
Compared to other Americans, larger majorities of Latinos think strengthening the United Nations (79% Latinos, 62% non-Latinos) has been an effective way to achieve US foreign policy goals. Latinos are also somewhat more likely to say that strengthening the United Nations is a “very important” foreign policy goal (48% vs. 35% of non-Latinos). In addition, Hispanics are slightly more likely than other Americans to agree that “when dealing with international problems, the United States should be more willing to make decisions within the United Nations even if this means that the United Sates will sometimes have to go along with a policy that is not its first choice” (64% vs. 58% of non-Latinos).
Majorities of both Latinos and non-Latinos tend to praise UN efforts on protecting the cultural heritage of the world, sending peacekeeping missions to conflict zones, leading international efforts to combat hunger, and protecting and supporting refugees around the world. In fact, at least six in ten Latinos say that the UN is doing a very or somewhat good job on every dimension asked about in the 2014 Chicago Council Survey, including authorizing the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security (66%), imposing sanctions on countries that violate international law (65%), resolving international conflicts through negotiations (66%), and preventing nuclear proliferation (64%). On these four specific items, non-Latinos are divided on whether the UN is doing a good or poor job.
In our discussions with experts about why Hispanics would have such a more positive view of the United Nations, some pointed to the media Latinos consume. Spanish-language media, by virtue of the range of countries it covers, tends to be more international in focus than traditional American media. Additionally, the United Nations has a long history of being more popular in Latin American nations; Latinos coming to the United States may have brought these views with them, and may also have passed them on to their children. 

Even as they align closely with the mainstream on foreign policy, the issue of highest interest to Latinos is a distinctly domestic matter. As is the case for most Americans, protecting American jobs is the top priority for U.S. Hispanics. Like the generation of immigrants before them, America’s newest residents are chiefly invested in the country they have chosen to call home.



The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.


| By Craig Kafura

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