The Bush and Gore Presidential Campaign Web Sites: Identifying with Hispanic Voters during the 2000 Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary

Article excerpt

This study examines presidential campaign discourse addressed to Hispanic voters during the 2000 Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. Burke's concept of identification is used to determine how candidates identified with Hispanics through (1) common association, (2) antithesis, and (3) subtlety or cunning. Results reveal that George W. Bush invested more in his Spanish Web site and differentiated more among distinct Hispanic populations to create identification with specific subgroups, while Al Gore presented a pan-Latino message. Overall, only four of the thirty-one analyzed messages focused specifically on mobilizing voters during the primary/caucus season.

The presidential campaign of 2000 was touted as the year the Internet would play a large role in electoral politics-"Internet makes its presence felt in 2000 race,"1 "Cyberspace politics: Presidential campaigns going online more, more,"2 and "This could be the year for cyberspace."3 News reports also proclaimed it the year "Latino voters could be key in some states."4 Late 1999 newspaper headlines heralded "Nobody's ignoring Hispanics now,"5 "In Iowa, Latinos bask in new political glow,"6 and "Politicians court Hispanic vote."7 One headline forecast was "Campaign 2000: Internet: Hispanics taking to the net to boost vote power."8

Campaigning for Hispanic votes is not new. DeSipio, de la Garza, and Setzler date it to Dwight Eisenhower's 1950s campaign to attract Mexican Americans. They also argue that Latinos were crucial to John F. Kennedy's 1960 defeat of Richard M. Nixon and that Mexican Americans led Michael Dukakis to several 1988 primary victories.9 New in 2000 were targeted campaign efforts aimed at Hispanics using Web site sections in Spanish.

This study examines Spanish-language Web site messages created for Hispanic10 voters by George W. Bush and Al Gore. Analysis centers on the period surrounding the 24 January 2000 Iowa caucuses and the I February 2000 New Hampshire primary. According to Butsillo, "Improbable as it sounds, Iowa... has become an early testing ground for the national strategies Gore and Bush are formulating to capture Latino votes."11 According to Davis, "nominations are the most decisive stage in the entire process of presidential selection."12 Studying initial campaign strategies is important for understanding the development of national campaigns. Studying these sites is also noteworthy because (1) messages in Spanish are less likely to be scrutinized by the non-Spanish speaking public, and (2) the content of the messages reflects what the candidates think about the Latino population.

First, the media and scholars have traditionally monitored English-language political communication-candidates' advertising messages, television appearances, political debates, and speeches. The candidates' Web sites, much like advertising messages and political speeches, serve a public relations function by presenting the candidates' perspectives.13 Web sites allow candidates to control messages and avoid critical analysis provided by gatekeeper journalists. Morris and Ogan argued that as more political information is supplied online, greater scrutiny of message content is needed.14 Additionally, Singer warned that the Internet could lead to audience fragmentation.15 Providing information in both Spanish and English may mean different information is provided to different constituents.

Second, candidate Web pages reveal candidate views about Spanish-speaking voters. According to Davila, "we are summoned to inquire into what the spaces supposedly devoted to ethnic representativity communicate about them to themselves and to society."16 Web pages not only communicate candidate messages to Hispanics, but also reveal how candidates perceive Hispanics and show Hispanics how their group is portrayed by candidates to society at large (e.g., as a previously marginalized group with growing economic and political clout, or as poor and under-educated). …