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OPINION

What you don’t know about Latinos in Massachusetts

Until now, there hasn’t been a concerted effort to better understand the perspectives of Latinos in Massachusetts. The lack of public opinion data is one reason why Latinos have flown under the radar of policy makers and elected officials.

Lillyahni Perez, 3, danced with the Fuerza International Dance Group during the Festival Betances parade in Boston, July 16. It is the longest-running Latino Cultural Festival in New England.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The state’s highest-profile politicians are surprisingly unknown to Massachusetts’ Latino residents.

Forty-two percent of Latinos have not heard of Governor Maura Healey. For US Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Katherine Clark, the figures are 49 and 55 percent, respectively. The most widely known? US Senator Elizabeth Warren, who scored the lowest in unfamiliarity: Only 1 in 5 Latinos hasn’t heard of her. Meanwhile, 41 percent are unfamiliar with US Senator Ed Markey.

That’s according to a new survey of Latinos in Massachusetts considered to be the largest and most comprehensive ever. Commissioned by Amplify Latinx, a Boston-based nonprofit, the poll surveyed 1,200 Latino residents all over the state in both English and Spanish on various policy and civic engagement issues. Steve Koczela, president of MassINC Polling Group which conducted the poll late last year, said in an interview that the data were weighted to parameters on age, gender, education, nationality, and region.

It was an overdue project. For far too long, there hasn’t been a concerted effort to better understand the perspectives of minority groups like Latinos, who now account for over 12 percent of the state population and who have driven its growth. The lack of public opinion data is one reason why Latinos have flown under the radar of policy makers and elected officials. (For instance, back in 2015, I complained about how little polling of local minority groups’ views there had been on the failed 2024 Boston Olympics bid.)

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Simply put, until now, no one had asked Latino residents exclusively whether they support abortion or rent control; why they’re not registered to vote if they’re eligible; and what their policy priorities are.

“I see this data as an opportunity to highlight issues that Latinos are concerned about and to advocate for policies they care about,” said Eneida Román, CEO and president of Amplify Latinx, which released findings in a legislative briefing at the State House on Wednesday. Additionally, Román said, the project included two focus groups of Latino residents and a series of interviews with elected Latino officials, including those at the municipal level and members of the Legislature.

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When asked to rank a host of public policy issues, the poll showed that the top issue for Latinos in the state is making housing and health care more affordable. Next they ranked: job creation and reducing unemployment; ensuring access to high-quality K-12 education; and protecting immigrant rights. Conversely, among Latinos’ lowest priorities was protecting the state against climate change, increasing the number of women in elected office, and improving public transportation.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Those policy priorities varied significantly among respondents who were born either in the United States, Puerto Rico, or elsewhere, which exemplifies the diversity of views among Latinos. For instance, “protecting immigrant rights” ranked higher for the foreign born and lower for Latinos who are US citizens. Digging into the data by country of origin, there was an interesting variance when pollsters asked Latinos if they supported pardoning people convicted of marijuana possession in Massachusetts. While 60 percent of all Latinos surveyed support pardons for those convicted of using or possessing marijuana, 69 percent of Puerto Ricans and 50 percent of Dominicans do.

Other takeaways from the poll: A majority of Latino respondents — 58 percent — said abortion should remain legal in all or most cases. While 10 percent of respondents identified as LGBTQ, the share grew to 19 percent among younger Latinos, a trend that follows national surveys that suggest younger Latinos identify as LGBTQ at higher rates than other demographic groups. Also, Latino voters are more likely than state voters as a whole to identify as Democrats and three times more likely to say they are Democrats than Republicans. For Koczela, that contradicts the national narrative that more Latinos are becoming Republicans. The poll and focus groups also explored why eligible voters are not registered, with respondents pointing to reasons related to “a general disaffection with politics and voting,” Koczela said.

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Which brings me back to Clark, Healey, Markey, and Pressley. In the words of a focus group participant from Western Massachusetts: “I don’t know if there are enough opportunities for elected people to be able to speak to the Latino community.” That is a loud and clear message that Clark, Healey, Markey, and Pressley hopefully will heed in order to start increasing their shockingly low name recognition among Latinos.


Marcela García is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at marcela.garcia@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @marcela_elisa and on Instagram @marcela_elisa.