In every Presidential race, the media anoints a particular demographic as the group that will swing the election. These groups have ranged from Soccer Moms (1996) to NASCAR Dads (2004) to Millennials (2008). Each of these groups enjoyed their moment in the sun as politicians courted their vote.
Now it’s our turn. In 2012, Latinos have received an unprecedented amount of attention, due to our growing numbers and concentration in battleground states. But we are not a monolithic voting block, and we add ethnicity into the equation. The challenge for President Obama and Mitt Romney’s campaigns is twofold. Not only must they connect with our diverse electorate, the candidates must avoid alienating other voters as well.
President Obama has been on a Hispanic advertising binge. According to Politico, his campaign has spent over $2 million on ads targeting Latinos. He has a Spanish-language website, a Spanish-language Twitter account, and a Spanish-language site explaining the Affordable Care Act, in addition to a section of his main website aimed at Hispanics. For Obama, favored by two-thirds of Latinos, the support is there; maximizing voter turnout is the goal.
Romney’s Latino strategy needs a reboot. He has no dedicated Spanish-language website. He has spent only $110,000 on Hispanic advertising. His two Spanish-language commercials are both direct, awkward translations of English ads. One spot, entitled “Day One,” is rendered “Dia Uno” in Spanish. The correct translation would be El primer dia.
Romney’s Spanish-language ads highlight unemploymentand the struggles of the middle class. However, here is a case of an advertiser not knowing the audience. A March poll by Fox News found that, despite being hard hit by the recession, 65 percent of Latinos remain optimistic about the future. To appeal to Hispanics, Romney should retool his message into something more positive.
With all the emphasis on Spanish-language media, it’s easy to forget that two-thirds of Hispanics are U.S. born. Both campaigns still need to figure out how to reach assimilated Hispanics, who make up by far the largest group of Latino voters.
That’s easier said than done. A soon-to-be-published study has found that political advertising aimed at Latinos can turn off other voters. Research conducted on Los Angeles residents during the 2008 election revealed that African-American and white voters expressed negative feelings toward a candidate after watching an ad with a Hispanic endorser. Similar results occurred when they viewed a non-Hispanic politician using a Spanish phrase. These reactions were noted among Democrats and Republicans alike. “Some voters see this advertising as sort of threatening,” researcher Matt Barreto told the Huffington Post. “They think, ‘Where’s my group? Why aren’t they talking to me?”
One explanation for the negative reaction may be that voters see politics as a zero-sum game; in other words, if you get yours, I might not get mine. Regardless, it is incumbent upon the major parties to devise ads for Latino that are inclusive of other groups as well. Consumer advertisers, like Coca-Cola and Verizon, have been doing this successfully for years. The presidential campaigns need to emulate the private sector and refine their messaging.
Once political advertising effectively reaches Latinos, it will be a win for everyone. The major parties will benefit from building bridges with Hispanics, who are known for brand loyalty. Civic participation among Latinos will rise, benefitting our community. And society will benefit, because an informed electorate leads to more responsible government. So smart, targeted ads can make all the difference – if and when our political parties are up to the task.