Article Demographics and Culture

Connecting to Critical Voters

Sep 19, 2012

An excerpt from “Latino Boom 2.0 ” publishing this Fall

According to Census data, every month, 50,000 Latino citizens turn 18 and are therefore eligible to vote. The American electorate is growing by the minute: the National Association of Elected Latino Officials (NALEO) projects that at least 12.2 million Hispanics will turn out to vote in the next presidential election. And although the number is small, the fact that many of them live in key swing states has made the importance of the Latino vote an ongoing conversation in Washington.

Keep in mind that although Latinos represent 17% of the population nationwide, in key swing states like Florida for example, they represent 23% of the state’s adult population. From 2000 to 2010, according to the Census, Hispanics contributed to 46% of the growth among the adult population in Florida, growing nearly five times faster than the non-Hispanic adult population in the state. Additionally, in New Mexico, Hispanics represent 42% of the adult population. Even in the other 10 swing states where the Hispanic population is relatively smaller than the national average, the growth in voting age Hispanics is mind-blowing.

In Virginia, the growth of eligible voters between 2008 and 2010 went up 18.8% for Hispanics vs. 1.1 % for non-Hispanic whites. In Missouri where McCain and Obama split the vote in 2008, the growth of eligible Latino voters was a whopping 24.2% vs. 0.6% for non-Hispanic whites. In North Carolina, Hispanic eligible voters grew by 39.1% vs. 1.8% for non-Hispanic whites according to an analysis based on Census data, published by the Wall Street Journal in late 2011.

And it’s not only about presidential politics. Did you know that Hispanics account for more than 50% of the Adults 18+ population in 25 congressional districts? Those kind of numbers can swing an election one way or the other and politicians know it.

There has never seen so much ink and air-time dedicated to the power of the Latino voter. And yet, according to Dr. Federico Subervi, author of the book “The Mass Media and Latino Politics,” less than 1% of broadcast news media cover Hispanic issues. When they do, they normally cover stories about immigration and crime, so if you only watch English-language TV news the perception you have of the Hispanic community can easily become quite distorted and definitely myopic. There are also very few prominent Latino journalists in network or cable news, which just adds to the overall invisibility of Latinos in American culture. This is likely to change in the next five years, especially since Univision recently announced a joint venture with ABC News to launch a 24-hour cable news network directed at capturing Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike. This yet to be named network will be launched in 2013 and will help elevate our voices into mainstream media. But we are a long way from where we need to be.

With so much air time devoted to the Latino vote, others are still just waking up to the power of the Hispanic community. Case in point is the Commission on Presidential Debates. In August of 2012, when the Commission announced the names of the four selected moderators for the 2012 presidential and vice presidential debates, people were up in arms about the fact that there were no people of color among moderators for the first time since 1996.

In a letter to Janet Brown, head of the Commission on Presidential Debates,  Randy Falco, CEO and President of Univision Communications Inc.  wrote:  “I am writing to express disappointment on behalf of the millions of Hispanics who do not have a voice in the upcoming presidential debates as evidenced by the selected moderators announced yesterday.” The presidential candidates, however, “got it” and a week later agreed to appear at the first-ever “Meet the Candidate” events hosted by Univision and Facebook, to directly address topics of importance to the Hispanic community, moderated by Univision’s award-winning journalists Maria Elena Salinas and Jorge Ramos.

The potential impact of the Latino vote has already garnered quite a bit of media coverage this year, although unfortunately it is all singularly focused on the immigration issue, not on what candidates are saying about their political platforms. Immigration is an American issue, not just a Hispanic issue.

For Latino citizens, not only the recent arrivals, but for those who may be generations removed from their family’s migration or even those who are U.S. born, immigration becomes a personal issue because of the anti-Latino rhetoric that surrounds much of the discussion these days. But in the end, what we do about the 12 million undocumented people — not all of which are Hispanic — who are living in the shadows of these great United States, is an American issue.

Like their business counterparts, both parties and other political influencers – mainly the PACs who will play such a huge role in the 2012 election cycle – there is a lot of ignorance about how to “get” the Hispanic voter, and tailor messages appropriately. The two most common mistakes politicians make is assuming Hispanics vote in a bloc and that there is no Latino political cohesiveness. George W. Bush and his political architect Karl Rove knew that they had to win with Hispanics to stay in office, and with a lot of help and dedication to the community, plus relevant messaging, he was able to get 44% of the Hispanic vote in 2004.

According to Univision’s evening news anchor Jorge Ramos, who wrote a piece for the TIME cover story, Hispanic voters feel politically isolated, with neither party doing a great job at connecting with them. The problem, like in business, is that people are making assumptions about what issues matter most to Hispanics, and most of the time they are wrong. Jobs, education and access to affordable healthcare are the three most important issues for Latinos in this election and we know this because  – for the first time ever  – politicians are spending money on research to find out what issues Latinos care about.

“If Republicans can’t get at least 33% of that vote, they likely won’t win the presidency back. Since Ronald Reagan, every single Republican candidate who has gotten more than a third of the Hispanic vote has won the election,” Ramos wrote in March of 2012. The biggest mistake candidates make is to assume that their message is being heard on the campaign trail without having to do anything in Spanish. They focus on the ground game, which is critically important to get out the vote, but they forget to TALK about the issues that HISPANICS care about.

The only place Latinos do get information about issues and candidates positions on policies that matter to us is through Spanish-language media, be it  television, newspapers, radio or the Internet. Yet, according to an NBC Latino/AP poll, in 2010 political ad spending on Spanish-language TV averaged 3.9%, down slightly from just over 4% in 2008.[3] As of August of 2012, “the presidential campaigns have spent $350 million in nine highly competitive states for all types of commercials thus far”, according to an analysis by the Associated Press. Those states are Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida. With the presidential race expected to be close, Latino turnout could help decide the outcome in those states,” wrote Carl Marcucci of Radio & Television Business Report in August of 2012. And yet, Obama had spent only $1.7 million since mid-April on ads in Spanish in Florida, Nevada and Colorado, according to SMG-Delta, which is a lot more than the Romney campaign who by the end of June had only spent $33,000 on Spanish-language ads in North Carolina and Ohio.

We will know the Latino effect on the election in November, but I can assure you that no matter who wins, Hispanic voters will play a critical role in determining who gets to be the POTUS for the next four years.

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