The potential impact that Latino voters might have on the
outcome of the 2008 presidential campaign has become a topic
of heightened media attention. In fact, discussions of
Latino electoral influence date back many years as multiple
studies show increasing numbers of Latinos are becoming U.S.
citizens, registering to vote, and voting. The power of
Latino voters has been particularly felt in the victories of
Latinos vying for the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives,
and especially the election of Antonio Villaraigosa as mayor
of Los Angeles.
Analysts have also focused on the low Latino voter
turnout; less than half of those who could register and vote
actually do so, consistently passing up that opportunity and
civic duty. Scholars, journalists and pundits have
articulated many explanations for that limited
participation, ranging from structural factors that
interfere with easy registration and voting, to Latinos'
apathy or alienation from political action that may be
considered irrelevant to improving their daily lives.
Missing from those discussions has been a detailed focus
on the media. Specifically, how have the U.S.
Spanish-language and English-language newspapers
and television newscasts covered Latinos and Latino aspects
of electoral campaigns? Also, how have the Democratic and
the Republican Party used the media to reach out to and win
Latino votes? And, what influence have the media actually
had on informing and mobilizing Latinos?
My recently published book, The Mass Media and Latino
Politics provides the first systematic analysis of all
three of those questions. It also helps readers understand
the role the media are playing regarding the Latino
Among its many findings, the book shows that with a
couple of exceptions, Spanish-language daily newspapers have
historically not done that great of a job in covering
presidential campaigns, at least not in terms of informing
their readers about the specific issues most important to
Latino voters. The coverage has for the most part mirrored
how English-language newspapers cover those elections and
politics, i.e., with an emphasis on the routine campaign
activities and who is ahead in the electoral horserace,
especially among Latino voters. In-depth news analyses and
opinion columns specifically related to Latino issues or
concerns have also been lacking in most print media.
Spanish-language television news programs have followed a
comparable pattern with their emphasis on campaign
activities and the electoral horserace. And while networks
and their affiliates can be commended for promoting the
importance of registration and voting, as well as trying to
bring a Latino angle to some of the stories being covered,
they have also failed to provide in-depth analyses and
explanations of where the candidates stand and how their
party's platforms might impact different segments of the
English-language media have been much worse. Year after
year, during election campaigns, occasional stories in
newspapers and on TV news superficially emphasize how
candidates are wooing Latino voters, that the Latino vote
could be important, or which candidate Latinos are favoring.
A common pattern is the focus on presidential candidates'
visits to Latino communities, which provide colorful images
of Hispanic dancers and musicians as backdrops to the brief
whistle-stops that can be summarized with the cliché "hey
amigo, vota por mi."
Meanwhile, the Democratic and Republican Parties have
each reached out via the media in Spanish and in English.
Part of that outreach has been paid political announcements
on Spanish-language television, and sporadic radio spots,
too. The Democrats' main theme has been that a vote for
their party or candidate will help solve [immigration,
education, drug, etc.] problems. On the other hand, the
Republicans repeatedly claim that voting for their party is
the path to reach the "American Dream." Another form of
outreach, especially by the GOP, has been the creation and
dissemination (or more accurately planting) of "news" and
"opinion columns" that get printed word for word but with
different bylines as "objective" or "impartial" information
by either unsuspecting or surrogate local Latino media.
Has exposure to the media in Spanish and/or English
influenced Latinos to increase their knowledge about
politics and vote? Yes, albeit the data and conclusiveness
of the findings are limited. On the other hand, the
aforementioned patterns of media coverage may simultaneously
be hindering mobilization and turnout among even larger
segments of the Latino population who lack news and
information that is ethnically relevant and thus serve as an
incentive to register and actually vote.
As the 2008 campaign continues, it will be interesting to
see if, for a change, the media in Spanish and English offer
more than occasional cursory stories about the potential
influence of the Latino vote and how the immigration reform
(or lack thereof) might mobilize Latinos (and non-Latino)
I believe that if and when the Latino-oriented and
general market media provide Latino audiences more in-depth
coverage of issues that are relevant and also convey
messages that are truly " incentivating " for
political participation, Latino voter turnout will increase
and become a much more powerful electoral force.
The author is Professor and Director of the Center for
the Study of Latino Media and Markets at the School of
Journalism & Mass Communication at Texas State
University-San Marcos, Director of the
Latinos and Media Project , and author and editor of the
book The Mass Media and Latino Politics: Studies of U.S.
Media Content, Campaign Strategies and Survey Research:
1984-2004 , published in 2008 by Routledge.