When immigration issues brought millions of Latino protesters across the country into the streets in 2006, their signs read ‘Today We March – Tomorrow We Vote.’ That tomorrow is now and both presidential candidates are courting Latinos
with Spanish-language outreach. Federico Subervi
, author of The Mass Media and Latino Politics
, explains the parallel presidential campaigns in English and Espanol.
Artist: Young Marble Giants
BROOKE GLADSTONE: When millions of Latinos across the country took to the streets over immigration reform in 2006, signs read, “Today We March - Tomorrow We Vote.” That tomorrow is almost here again, and nearly 18 million Latinos are registered, ready and representing most of the swing in some swing states. So, of course, the candidates are targeting them, but not as an ethnic monolith.
Federico Subervi, author of The Mass Media and Latino Politics, says the candidates have run essentially parallel campaigns this year, with Spanish-language ads targeted at specific communities in battleground districts. Conservative Cubans in Florida get one ad, more liberal Mexicans in New Mexico, another. But they do have at least one thing in common – negativity.
FEDERICO SUBERVI: The approach for the McCain camp for the Florida area is demonizing Obama as being someone who would be willing to talk to Chavez, the president of Venezuela, of someone who would probably open the doors to talking to these left wing dictators and these Communists, someone who would eliminate the free trade agreement. So that’s the approach there.
You move to New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada, and just to take the example of New Mexico, the main spot that’s being aired on Spanish-language radio is the anti-Obama spot, saying that Obama was responsible for the lack of immigration reform, which you wouldn't hear in California, nor in Texas, nor in other parts of the country. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Have you noticed whether they have a different message for Spanish voters than they do for English-language ones?
FEDERICO SUBERVI: What we've noticed is that in the Spanish spots, compared to previous years, there’s more of the “we” and the “us” in the text of the messages. There is more of the “what we, the immigrant, can do.” You don't hear those words, those “we,” the “us,” spoken by the respective candidates in the general market English-language spots directed to the rest of the population. BROOKE GLADSTONE: When George W. Bush made a serious effort to reach out to Latino voters, he won 35 percent of their vote in 2000. What was his strategy? FEDERICO SUBERVI: The biggest difference for Bush is that he brought in Sonia Colin, who did an outstanding job in public relations, getting a lot of free media, allowing him to be accessible to Latino-oriented media. And that was not the case in previous campaigns by any Republican.
One of the interesting stories of the previous campaigns was how Al Gore was asked by one of his Latino media strategists to provide videotape of Al Gore reaching out, shaking hands with Latino community leaders. Well, I think that that strategist, that Latino strategist, is still waiting for those videos [BROOKE LAUGHS], which were nowhere to be found.
Meanwhile, Bush had pictures of himself hugging, kissing Latino babies and moms and all of that, and they could produce that, whereas the Democrats were aloof and distant and didn't have that connection.
This year they're making a bigger effort, a much greater effort compared to previous years. BROOKE GLADSTONE: George Bush seemed to at least know his way around a tamale. I understand that he ate that fine, whereas many years earlier, Gerald Ford, eating his, failed to [LAUGHS] unwrap the cornhusk. FEDERICO SUBERVI: That’s true. And it was the talk of the town when it was like oh, this is kind of rough, isn't it? [BROOKE LAUGHS] And well, yes, Mr. President. You’re supposed to unwrap it first. BROOKE GLADSTONE: You talked about the Latino youth. There were massive demonstrations in 2006 to protest changes in immigration policy, and these demonstrations were spurred in large part by local radio and the Internet. These media were really powerful in organizing young Latinos. Was this a new thing, a breakthrough? FEDERICO SUBERVI: Breakthrough in the galvanizing of that youth all over the country, all at once. Now they're getting the same emphasis to get Latinos to register and vote. BROOKE GLADSTONE: So have the campaigns picked up on these media tools to get young Latinos on their side? FEDERICO SUBERVI: Certainly so. The Obama campaign, in particular, has a blueprint for the Latino community and it goes page by page over the issues – education, immigration reform, housing. In the McCain website, you don't find as rich of information.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: During the election season, we have all these ads, and in the last few election cycles we've had a whole bunch of media outlets and independent groups fact-checking those ads. But, of course, it’s in English. Has Univision or anyone else taken on the fact-checking job in Spanish? FEDERICO SUBERVI: Not that I know. And there’s two big gaps when it comes to Latino political communication. One of them is precisely this, assessing what is right and what is wrong of the spots and the strategies of the candidates to get the Latino vote. The other gap is with research to assess what are the effects of these spots and other media outreach.
We don't have people doing the polling on a regular basis with panels and cohorts of Latinos to say, after these spots there was a shift or there was not a shift in the voting pattern of Latinos. That does not exist out there. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Federico, thank you very much. FEDERICO SUBERVI: My pleasure. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Federico Subervi is a professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Texas State University San Marcos, and the author of The Mass Media and Latino Politics. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]