Latino Vote: Romney Is Lost in Translation

bush romneyGeorge W. Bush wrote the book on Latino ad campaigns.  In the 2000 election Bush and the RNC outspent Gore and the DNC by a margin of 3-1. Republican Spanish language ads aired thousands of times across the nation’s swing states paying off in electoral wins in Latino heavy states such as Nevada, Florida, and Colorado.

From his time advising Bush in Texas politics, Karl Rove was a strong supporter of aggressively courting the Latino vote.  In both 2000 and 2004 the Republican investment paid off, gaining the president the highest Latino support of any Republican candidate.

So far it seems that the Romney campaign has decided not to take a page out of the Bush Latino playbook.  Instead, the Obama campaign has taken up W’s spirit and has unleashed a targeted Latino campaign blitz.  Romney, however, has yet to launch a Spanish language version of his website and has only released two Spanish language TV ads.  Moreover, while these ads are in Spanish they are not unique, meaning they are simply translations of English language ads.

My research together with that of other political scientists has shown that the effectiveness of campaign ads relies largely on the psychological connection that can be formed between the viewer and the campaign.

For Latinos, the element of culture and shared ethnic background is an effective vehicle to spur engagement.  On the surface, it may seem that Romney is targeting the Latino electorate by putting forward Spanish language ads; in reality he is missing the boat.

The language of the ad is one component of connecting with an audience, both in terms of comprehension and in highlighting the cultural importance of the Spanish language for Latinos.  However, by not producing an ad that is uniquely targeted to Latinos, other meaningful ad imagery and content prevents a full cultural engagement and identification with the sponsor.

Latino-targeted ads work regardless of whether they are in Spanish or English.  What is important is that the message focuses on what is of importance to that particular electorate and that the images and persons appearing in the ads reflect that.

victoria defrancesco sotoMitt Romney is not George W. Bush and this is especially true when it comes to his agenda on immigration and other Latino-related policy.  However, to be competitive, Romney must solidify his support among Latino Republicans and seek to bring over some Independent and moderate Democratic Latinos.

To do this he must make a serious investment in quality outreach that does not court Latinos as an afterthought, but through carefully thought out unique messaging.  And we know he can do it – he put out a very good original Spanish language ad in the Florida primary.  The question is whether he believes it is worth the effort to make sure he does not get lost in translation.

Victoria Defrancesco Soto
Dr. DVMDS

Posted: Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Published by the LA Progressive on May 29, 2012
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About Victoria DeFrancesco Soto

Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University and a Faculty Fellow at Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research. She received her Ph.D. from Duke University in 2007 during which time she was a National Science Foundation Fellow. DeFrancesco Soto was recently named one of the top 12 scholars in the country by Diverse magazine.

Victoria’s research analyzes how human thought and emotion shapes political behavior. Her academic work focuses on: campaigns and elections, political marketing, race and ethnic politics, and immigration. Her academic research has been widely published in scholarly journals and edited volumes. In 2008, Dr. DeFrancesco Soto was Northwestern University’s principal investigator for the Big Ten Battleground Poll, a public opinion survey of voters for the 2008 Presidential election. She is currently working on a book manuscript that analyzes the emergence of conservative feminism.