Note: This post is a write up of a poll done by Latino Decisions

Colorado has become one of the most contested states in 2012, and Michael Bennet’s 2010 Senate win came by less than 30,000 votes.  Latino voters – at an estimated 12% of the electorate – have become one of the most crucial voting blocs. Today, Latino Decisions releases new poll results on behalf of Nuestro Rio regarding Latino voter attitudes towards environmental issues, including potential oil shale development, and protection of rivers and drinking water.

Potential oil shale development is a contentious issue in Colorado. Oil shale is not oil, but a rock containing kerogen which can be melted to 700 degrees over months or years to produce oil. No commercial oil shale operations currently exist in the United States. Little-to-no research has probed Latino voters’ attitudes on this complex issue. Advocates of oil shale have argued it represents an opportunity to develop domestic oil and create jobs. Opponents have countered that it is creates pollution and could damage the environment, including the Colorado River.  But where do Latino voters stand on this issue? Polls have shown that job-creation is a top issue of concern among Latinos.  However, the results released today suggest that for Colorado Latinos, protecting the environment is also an issue of significant concern.  When it comes to evaluating candidates, by a 3-1 margin, Latino voters say they prefer a candidate who will ensure environmental protections before oil shale production moves forward.

According to Nita Gonzalez, Nuestro Rio Coordinator for Colorado, “The health of the Colorado River depends on a smart approach to the conflict between energy and water demands. In our poll, we found that by an overwhelming majority – 70 percent to 17 percent – Colorado Latino’s favor a smart approach to oil shale that ensures the protection of western water.”

To get to this complex issue, and present both sides of the debate, Latino Decisions asked Latino voters in Colorado the following question: For 100 years in western states, oil companies have attempted to melt a rock known as oil shale into oil by superheating it to 700 degrees or more over a period of months or even years. Oil companies say this process will help lead us to energy independence and create jobs. Critics say oil shale mining could require enormous amounts of electricity and billions of gallons of water, create toxic pollution, and put western waters such as the Colorado River at serious risk. The federal government is considering a plan for oil shale development which would require companies to prove the economic viability of oil shale and that it can be produced in a way that will not harm water and air resources in Colorado and other states. 

Do you favor or oppose a plan that would require oil companies to complete successful research of oil shale technologies and know its viability and potential impacts to western water prior to commercial development on public lands?

Next, respondents were asked to evaluate two candidates who had competing views on the need for oil shale regulations, and then pick which candidate they would support.  Let’s say there are two candidates running for office, and one candidate supported a proposal to require oil companies to prove that oil shale is feasible and won’t harm western water before commercially occurs on public lands — and the other candidate said oil companies should be able to get started developing oil shale right away to create jobs and energy.  Which candidate are you more likely to support?

“Not only do Latinos agree in principle that we should put some safe guards on oil shale, but are Latinos have told us they are more likely to support a candidate that favors protection of our water versus a candidate that supports a headlong rush into oil shale speculation by an incredible margin of 40 percent,” added Nita Gonzalez.

While there are many important issues in 2012 including jobs and the economy, immigration reform, health care and education, this new polling shows that Latino voters in Colorado also care deeply about protecting the environment.  Even when told that some argue oil shale production could create jobs, a strong majority of Latino voters opted for more government regulations to ensure the environment is protected.

When asked how important the protection of rivers, mountains and air in Colorado was an election issue, given all the various important issues on the agenda this year a sizable share of Latino voters, 39% said it was one of the most important issues, and an additional 38% rated environmental protection as “fairly important.”  Only 2% of respondents said it was “not at all important” as an election issue this year.

Finally, Latino voters believe in candidates who will improve the economy and also ensure the protection of natural resources in Colorado. We presented respondents with the following proposition: Let’s say one of the candidates had a plan to improve the economy that you supported, and on the issue of energy and oil the candidate said, quote: “in the West, we know how important water is.  We must protect our waters like the Colorado river.  If an oil company wants to pursue oil shale, it’s just common sense to have them do their homework first, know the feasibility of oil shale, and prove they won’t ruin our beautiful rivers and streams here in Colorado” end quote. Would that statement make you more likely to support the candidate, less likely to support the candidate, or would you not care what they said about energy and oil if you agreed with their plan for the economy?

Full poll results posted here

Poll Details: A total of 400 Latino registered voters in Colorado were interviewed September 29-October 4, 2012 by Latino Decisions for Nuestro Rio. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, at the preference of the respondent, all conducted by bilingual interviewers at Latino Decisions calling center, Pacific Market Research. The survey has an overall margin of error of 4.9% on results that approach a 50/50 distribution. All respondents confirm that they are Hispanic or Latino and currently registered to vote.