Spanish-Language Radio Advertisements and Latino Voter Turnout in the 2006 Congressional Elections: Field Experimental Evidence

Article excerpt

Abstract

Because Hispanic voters are seldom targeted for campaign communication and because they listen to radio at higher rates than non-Hispanics, Spanish-language radio represents an attractive venue for testing whether nonpartisan mass media messages can mobilize voters. We conducted a large-scale, national field experiment testing the impact of nonpartisan Spanish-language radio advertisements on Latino voter turnout in the 2006 congressional elections. The experiment, encompassing 206 congressional districts, indicates that nonpartisan radio ads represent an effective and cost-efficient means of raising Latino turnout in federal elections.

Keywords

field experiment, voter mobilization, radio advertising, Latino voting behavior, electoral campaigns, congressional elections

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Hispanic1 participation in elections lags behind that of non-Hispanic groups. In 2008, 54 percent of votingeligible Hispanic citizens were registered to vote in the 2006 midterm elections, compared to 71 percent of non- Hispanic whites and 61 percent of African Americans (U.S. Census Bureau, File 2008). Among eligible voters, 32 percent of Hispanics voted in 2006, compared to 41 percent of African Americans and 52 percent of non- Hispanic whites. Even among registered voters, Hispanics voted at rates lower than non-Hispanic whites and African Americans in 2006: 60 percent compared to 72 and 67 percent, respectively (File 2008). Although racialized politics (de la Garza, Menchaca, and DeSipio 1994) or elections with competitive Latino candidates on the ballot (Barreto 2007), for example, may energize Hispanic voters, most studies conclude that in comparison to other ethnic groups, Hispanic voters are, on average, less likely to engage politically. Lower levels of Hispanic participation are seen across a broad range of political activities such as contributing to candidates, volunteering in campaigns, and contacting elected officials (Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995; Garcia and Sanchez 2008).

Several theories have been advanced to explain Hispanics' relatively low levels of electoral engagement. Low rates of citizenship (Michelson 2005) and low socioeconomic status are said to account for part of the discrepancy in participation (Garcia and Sanchez 2008, 139). Other scholars point to low levels of political information and interest in public affairs (Garcia and Sanchez 2008, 140). Although surveys reveal relatively high levels of civic duty, political efficacy, and patriotism-attitudes typically associated with higher turnout levels-Hispanics vote with lower frequency than other ethnic groups (de la Garza, Falcon, and Garcia 1996). This remains a puzzle, given that many of the structural and institutional barriers- including onerous registration requirements, Englishlanguage- only ballots, and literacy tests-that inhibited Hispanic participation historically have been dismantled.

Another set of theories focuses on mobilizationcentered explanations to account for relatively low levels of Hispanic electoral participation. Limited resources compel campaigns to target their mobilization efforts to segments of the population they perceive to be most receptive, often at the expense of Hispanics, who tend to have low propensities to vote (Panagopoulos and Wielhouwer 2008; Gershtenson 2003; Rosenstone and Hansen 1993).2 Although some argue that campaigns are increasingly courting Hispanic voters (Segal 2002), several studies reveal Hispanics are routinely neglected by campaigns' mobilization efforts relative to other ethnic and racial groups (Leighley 2001; Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995; Ramirez 2005; Hero et al. 2000). In the 2000 presidential election, for example, Democrats and Republicans aired more than 275,000 advertising spots on television in the nation's top seventy-five media markets; but only 3,900 of these, or 1.4 percent, were Spanish-language or bilingual advertisements (Oberfield and Segal 2008). …