Do all Hispanic people view law enforcement similarly?

Tufts Public Opinion Lab
5 min readMay 16, 2024


By Claire Bolash (‘24), Jojo Martin (‘25), Miles Kendrick (‘26), and Tsumugi Maruo (‘26)

Note: This is one of a series of guest posts from students in the Tufts Political Science Research Methods course.

According to Florida Atlantic University, the racial category “Hispanic” includes twenty-one countries and spans three continents. Those who identify as Hispanic come from a diversity of backgrounds, cultures, and origins, yet their differences are often overlooked by academic scholars. Grouped into one uniform entity, assumed to have no significant internal variations in belief or opinion, certain Spanish-speaking communities have been largely ignored by academia for years. As we will see, this disregard has significant consequences on scholarly understanding of the criminal justice system’s reputation.

As of September 2023, people categorized as “Hispanic” make up 23% of America’s prison population despite accounting for only 19% of America’s total population. “Hispanic” men are almost four times more likely to go to prison than non-Hispanic white men, and today, Hispanic people are the fastest-growing group being incarcerated. Despite this, relatively little is known about the intra-ethnic distinctions in opinion on law enforcement and incarceration within the community, begging the question: do all Spanish-speaking people living in America view law enforcement the same? If not, in what ways do they differ?

To answer these questions, our research uses data collected in the 2022 Cooperative Election Study (CES), a large-scale, nationwide survey conducted every two years, to identify differences and similarities in carceral opinion across varying Latin heritages. Specifically, we assess the opinions of eight subgroups within the ethnic category. Our independent variable is defined as “Latin Heritage” and consists of respondents who self-identified as Caribbean, Central American, Cuban, Dominican, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South American, or a non-specified Latin heritage.

We used four survey questions regarding law enforcement to measure variations in perceptions:

1. Do the police make you feel…? (Mostly safe/ somewhat safe/ somewhat unsafe/ mostly unsafe).

2. Increase the number of police on the street by 10 percent, even if it means fewer funds for other public services (support/oppose).

3. End the Department of Defense program that sends surplus military weapons and equipment to police departments (support/oppose).

4. Eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders (support/oppose).

Each of these questions tackle a different aspect of law enforcement in the U.S. (attitudes toward police, police presence, militarized policing, and punishment), and all but the first are binary variables. (The question “Do the police make you feel…?” has been recoded on a 0–1 scale for the purposes of this study.)

What we found

When looking at the response count to the survey questions among all respondents with Latin heritage, we observed that the vast majority report feeling “somewhat safe” or “mostly safe” in the presence of police and are in favor of eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent, first-time offenses. The questions regarding increasing police presence and ending the Department of Defense program were much more evenly split.

Through this study, we found statistically significant (p<0.05) results showing the impact of one’s country of origin as a predictor of their view on different policing measures. Respondents with Cuban heritage are statistically more in favor of law enforcement in each model examined in our research. This is consistent with our expected findings as Cubans living in America tend to be older and vote more Republican than other Spanish-speaking communities. Respondents with Puerto Rican heritage display more favor towards the Department of Defense program and increasing police presence. Individuals with Mexican or “South American” heritage report feeling safer around the police, and Mexican respondents tend to be more supportive of minimum sentencing. Notably, those with Caribbean heritage are the only group that oppose a 10% increase in police and feel less safe in the presence of law enforcement.

One of the shortcomings of this research is the narrow scope of indicators included in the independent variable, “Latin heritage.” Specifically, it does not capture information such as citizenship status, country of origin, and degree of cultural association. Furthermore, the independent variable does not include all Latin American countries. Multiple countries in South America, for example, were grouped into one “South American” subgroup, disregarding potential intra-continental differences. Moreover, selecting Latin respondents who identify their heritage as “the United States” as the baseline in this analysis may present certain limitations. Specifically, Latin Americans who identify their heritage as American may be appealing to patriotic and nationalistic impulses that are perhaps correlated with a more positive perception of law enforcement, thus introducing potential bias within the study.

Future studies should focus on what cannot currently be captured by the independent variable. It may be beneficial, for example, to limit our sample to just first- and second-generation respondents with similar levels of experience with their country of origin. In this way, we eliminate differences in cultural familiarity (how familiar is one with the country to which their heritage is linked?) to control for confounding influences in the study. Additionally, future studies should expand the list of Latin heritages to include all twenty-one “Hispanic” countries. In doing so, we can develop a more extensive understanding of how they differ internally on issues of law enforcement and incarceration.

As those categorized as Hispanic continue to be disproportionately represented in America’s prison system, analyzing intra-racial differences in public opinion is becoming increasingly important. Through this study, we find statistically significant relationships between respondents of certain heritages and their opinions on law enforcement. This suggests that there is merit in looking beyond the term “Hispanic” when studying public opinion on the carceral state. With an issue as complex and divisive as law enforcement, researchers can not afford to commit such vast generalizations about Spanish-speaking communities.



Tufts Public Opinion Lab

The Tufts Public Opinion Lab (TPOL) is dedicated to studying contemporary controversies in American public opinion using quantitative data analysis.