A new survey finds Hispanic voters in the United States overwhelmingly back Democrat Barack Obama over Republican John McCain in the presidential race. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Washington.

Senator McCain represents Arizona, a state that borders Mexico and has a large Latin American immigrant community. Unlike Senator Obama, who is relatively new to the national spotlight, McCain is well known as a longtime advocate of many causes that are popular among Hispanics, including comprehensive immigration reform.

It is therefore all the more surprising that the latest poll shows Hispanics backing Obama over McCain by a ratio of nearly three-to-one.

The survey of more than 2,000 registered voters of Latin American descent was conducted by the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center. Sixty-six percent of respondents said they support Senator Obama, compared to 23 percent for Senator McCain. Seventy-six percent of respondents said they view Obama favorably, while 44 percent said they have a favorable view of McCain.

Although the U.S. Hispanic community is diverse, from Cuban-Americans in Florida to Mexican-Americans in California, the Pew survey showed little variance among the segments of the community that were identified in the poll.

"This support for Obama is quite broad-based, and there are few differences within demographic groups. We did not detect important differences in support for Barack Obama between Hispanic registered voters who were born in the United States and those who are immigrants. We also did not detect differences in support for Obama between Latino voters who preferred to be interviewed in Spanish and those who preferred to be interviewed in English," said Susan Minushkin, the Pew Hispanic Center's deputy director.

The survey numbers seem to indicate a dramatic turnaround in Obama's fortunes among Hispanics. During the primary season, they voted overwhelmingly for Obama's rival, Senator Hillary Clinton. Some analysts at the time suggested a racial component to the trend, given friction and economic competition between Hispanics and African Americans for lower-paying jobs.

But the Pew survey finds only 11 percent of Hispanics view Obama's race as a detriment, while more than half say the fact that he is black makes no difference to them. A similar proportion said McCain's race is unimportant.

Minushkin says Obama appears to have successfully picked up the backing of Hispanic former-Clinton supporters. 

"Seventy-six percent of those who voted for Clinton in the primaries now say they would vote for or are leaning toward Obama. This compared favorably with the 70 percent of non-Hispanic white Clinton voters who said they have transferred their allegiance to Obama. Finally, more than half of all Latino voters say that Obama is better for Hispanics, compared with just seven percent who say that McCain would be better for Hispanics," she said.

The survey found Hispanics rate economic and financial issues as their top concerns, mirroring polls with similar results for the nation as a whole.

When it comes to party preference, 65 percent of respondents in the Pew survey self-identify as Democrats or Democratic-leaning voters, compared to 26 percent who consider themselves Republicans or Republican-leaning voters. Historically, Hispanics have tended to vote Democratic, although President Bush made significant inroads among Hispanics in his successful presidential bids, winning 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004.

Hispanics now stand as America's largest minority group, accounting for roughly 15 percent of the U.S. population. Although many Hispanics do not vote, either because they lack citizenship or are not of legal voting age, those that are registered do represent a critical voting bloc in battleground states such as Florida, Colorado and New Mexico that could prove decisive in the November election.