Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Monday March 23rd, 2015, 5:12pm

New Poll Looks At Latino Perspectives In Chicago Mayoral Race

A new survey shows Latino registered voters in Chicago overwhelming support Chicago mayoral challenger Jesus 'Chuy' Garcia over Mayor Rahm Emanuel. But while Latino voters are strongly pro-Garcia, they are not necessarily anti-Emanuel, the polling results indicate.

Of the 406 Latino survey respondents, 61 percent opted for Garcia, while 18 percent said they would vote for Emanuel if the April 7 runoff were held today. Twenty-one percent of survey respondents were undecided in the poll, conducted March 16 through March 20.

Latino Decisions' bilingual telephone survey -- co-sponsored by the Latino Policy Forum, National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC) and Univision Chicago -- has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.

Representatives from the groups involved with the survey, along with Northwestern University political science lecturer Jamie Dominguez, whose expertise includes Latino and Chicago politics, spoke at a Monday morning forum to discuss to the polling results.

Panelists stressed the importance of the new survey, noting that the Latino vote is generally under-polled in Chicago mayoral polls.

"No other poll conducted this season has aimed to connect directly with (Latinos) or sought to gauge their perspective on critical issues," Dominguez noted.

There are more than 240,000 registered Latino voters in Chicago, a 25 percent increase since 2008. Latinos currently represent 17 percent of the city's electorate.

"We know that this is likely to be a very close and competitive election," said Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum. "That 17 percent of Chicago's electorate can make a difference ... Pundits are saying that this turnout in this election will make a difference. So let me emphasize that Latino voter turnout will make a difference in this election, and for the future direction of the city of Chicago."

If elected, Garcia would be Chicago's first Latino mayor. When asked in the poll, "How important to you is it that Chicago elects a Latino as the next mayor," 71 percent said it is either very or somewhat important.

Among other notable findings, 85 percent of survey respondents said they were very or somewhat enthusiastic about casting a vote in the April 7 runoff.

"I don't think that's something we've seen in a very, very long time," Dominguez said of the Chicago Latino electorate's enthusiasm about the mayoral runoff. "Probably the last time we actually saw Latinos be this excited about getting involved ... [was] probably when Harold Washington ran in the '80s."

Although poll respondents overwhelmingly supported Garcia for mayor, Sylvia Manzano with Latino Decisions said the survey indicates that there is not a strong anti-Emanuel sentiment among the Latino electorate. She noted that 44 percent of survey respondents said they either strongly or somewhat approve of the mayor's job in office.

Fifty-one percent of survey respondents, however, gave Emanuel a negative job approval rating, with 5 percent of respondents undecided about the mayor's performance. 

Prominent Latino elected official U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL,4) is backing Emanuel in the mayoral contest, as are most members of the Chicago City Council's Latino Caucus. For his part, Garcia has picked up endorsements from a number of civic Latino leaders as well as progressive Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), a Latino Caucus member.

Oscar Chacon with NALACC said he believes there is a disconnect "between where people at the grassroots happen to be and where many of these so-called leaders happen to be" when it comes to which candidate they support in Chicago's mayoral race.

But Puente pointed out that 20 percent of the Latino survey respondents were undecided in the poll on which candidate they favor. They "could still go either way," she said. 

As far as candidate endorsements, Puente said, "I think we have to raise a legitimate question: Does our elected leadership endorsement sway Latino voters?" 

"And I think we'll know the answer for that in just a couple weeks," she said. 

In discussing the new poll, panelists also stressed that the Chicago Latino population is not monolithic.

"Certainly  we see among our allies and our friends that there are people that are strongly supporting both candidates," Puente said.

Schools, public safety and jobs were cited as top priority issues among the poll's respondents.

"The things that Latinos are interested in, despite public perception that (they do) not tend to be mainstream issues, they're issues that everybody is concerned about," Dominguez stressed.

When asked which candidate would do a better job promoting economic development downtown, 46 percent picked Emanuel, while 35 percent chose Garcia. Survey respondents, however, said Garcia, if elected, would do a better job than Emanuel when it comes to promoting economic development in Chicago neighborhoods, creating more jobs in Chicago, improving safety and reducing crime, improving success of K-12 students and working to create an elected school board.

In a surprise to the panelists, the poll showed that 65 percent of survey respondents had not been asked by "anyone from a campaign, political party or community organization" for their vote or if they were registered to vote in the Chicago mayoral election. Of those who were contacted, 49 percent said the outreach came from Garcia's campaign, while 31 percent said the Emanuel campaign contacted them. 

There is a great opportunity, Dominguez said, for both campaigns to ramp up their outreach to Latino voters ahead of the April 7 runoff.

"This poll shows that Latinos are interested, do want to be involved, do want to be mobilized, do want to be recruited," he stressed.

The poll was conducted by fully bilingual interviewers via mobile and landline telephone. The interviews were done in either Spanish or English, based on the respondent's choice. Forty-six percent and 54 percent of interviews were done in Spanish and English, respectively.

The full survey, "Chicago Latino Voters and the 2015 Mayoral Runoff" can be found here.

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