Two recent polls indicate that Latino opposition to Bush administration policies is strong and increasing. More importantly, the polls suggest that issue-oriented campaigns can significantly increase Latino voter turnout against Bush and the right-wing Republicans in Congress, and play a significant role in defeating them.

The Latino vote for president has tripled in one generation, from 2.1 million in 1976 to an expected 6.8 million or more in 2004. Latino voters are key in large states like California, Texas, Illinois, Florida and New York. They can make a critical difference in battleground states like Arizona, New Mexico, Florida, and Nevada.

A Gallup poll conducted in June and released July 6 shows that Latino voter approval of the Bush presidency dropping in one year from 67 percent in June 2003 to 40 percent today. The poll showed John Kerry leading among Latino voters in a three-way race for president with 51 percent, Bush with 35 percent, and Nader 8 percent. In a straight-up race with Bush, Kerry leads 57 percent to 38 percent.

In 2000, Democrat Al Gore carried the Latino vote by 62-35. The poll indicates that today, Latinos favor Democrats over Republicans in congressional elections, 60 percent to 35 percent.

It is possible that Kerry could reach 62 percent again or even surpass it with an issue-oriented campaign. This is clear from a second poll, this one focused on Latino thinking on issues. The poll was commissioned by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest Latino civil rights group, and released June 26 at its national convention in Phoenix, Ariz.

The study shows that the Bush program – giving tax breaks to the rich, cutting social programs for the poor and working people, pushing tough law and order policies, and emphasizing unending war – is far out of step with mainstream Latinos.

It reports that 62 percent of Latinos “would pay higher taxes to support a government that provides more services.” Only 28 percent support lower taxes and fewer services.

Seventy-four percent say too little is spent on education, 78 percent want more spent on preschool education and services, and 78 percent want more spent on health care programs.

The survey showed education/schools is the number one priority for 34 percent of Latinos, followed by the economy and jobs (22 percent), immigration (8), civil rights (6), health care (5), war on terrorism (2), and national security (1).

Discrimination is seen as a problem in the workplace by 75 percent, in schools by 72 percent and in housing by 66 percent. On criminal justice issues, 74 percent want a tougher approach on the causes of crime; 22 percent prioritize stricter punishment.

On immigration, 82 percent favor providing a clear path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have lived, worked and paid taxes for five years. Eighty-seven percent support legal status for undocumented children who have lived here five years, enabling them to attend college and work without fear of deportation.

The huge support for an activist, pro-social services, pro-labor agenda among Latinos is a long-term trend. It started in the New Deal when policies of outright exclusion of Mexican Americans began to be dismantled. Strong labor activity in the Depression, valiant service in World War II, and mobilization for electoral power afterwards did away with the slogan “no dogs or Mexicans allowed” and led to the cries of “Chicano Power!” and “Si! Se Puede!” in the ’60s and ’70s.

The predominantly working-class character of Latino communities in general, and of the Mexican American and Puerto Rican communities in particular, and their struggle for full equality, form the basis of their progressive political tendencies.

The NCLR study shows the highest percentage area of agreement among Latinos (88 percent) is that it is important for the Hispanic community to work together to build political power. This impetus for unity can become a powerful force.

In 1994 in California, after the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 was passed, the Latino turnout mushroomed in the following elections. This June, the Bush administration oversaw an escalation of immigration raids from coast to coast. Meanwhile Democrat candidate Kerry addressed the NCLR and other Latino groups, proposing a raise in the minimum wage, more funding for education and health care, a moderate immigration program with open a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.

The reactionary Bush policies and the liberal openings of the Kerry campaign could help unleash a huge anti-Bush Latino turnout if there is strong, grassroots campaigning on the key issues.

Rosalio Muñoz is the district organizer of the Communist Party USA in Southern California. He can be reached at