Campaigning to the New American Electorate: Advertising to Latino Voters

Campaigning to the New American Electorate: Advertising to Latino Voters

Campaigning to the New American Electorate: Advertising to Latino Voters

Campaigning to the New American Electorate: Advertising to Latino Voters


Presuming that a strong relationship exists between one's identity and political behavior, American politicians have long targeted immigrant and ethnic communities based on their shared ethnic or racial identity. But to what extent do political campaign messages impact voters' actual decisions and behaviors?

This new book is one of the first to examine and compare the campaign efforts used to target Latinos with those directed at the rest of the electorate. Specifically, it focuses on televised Spanish and English-language advertising developed for the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, as well as for dozens of congressional and statewide contests from 2000- 2004. Author Marisa Abrajano's research reveals exposure to these televised political ads indeed impacts whether Latinos turn out to vote and, if so, for whom they vote. But the effect of these advertising messages is not uniform across the Latino electorate. Abrajano explores the particular factors that affect Latinos' receptivity to political ads and offers key findings for those interested in understanding how to mobilize this critical swing group in American politics.


Hispanics are different to communicate to… the Hispanic community is
not homogenous.… They are complex in their own and unique ways, less
partisan, more independent.… I don’t pretend to understand… but I do
know enough to hire people who do

—Bill Knapp, 2000 Gore campaign media strategist

IN THE SPRING OF 2000, the leaders of the Democratic Party faced a crisis that would have serious repercussions for the upcoming presidential election. The issue involved a boy by the name of Elian Gonzalez who had illegally crossed the Florida straits along with his mother and others from Cuba. Elian’s mother died in the crossing, and the U.S. government was faced with a decision—send Elian back to his father in Cuba or grant him permanent residency in the U.S. so he could reside with his relatives in Florida. Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore split with the administration and supported a congressional bill that would provide the boy with permanent residency. Gore adopted this position with the hope of securing the support of Florida’s crucial voting bloc of Latinos, composed mostly of Cuban Americans but also of Central and South Americans. The Clinton administration, however, decided to go in the opposite direction. On April 13, 2000, the Department of Justice sent eight fully armed agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to forcibly remove Gonzalez from his great-uncle’s house and return him to his father in Cuba. The handling of the Elian Gonzalez case proved to be disastrous for Gore’s support among Florida Latinos. It infuriated the Cuban community and, as scholars Kevin Hill and Dario Moreno (2005) note, Cuban voters used the 2000 presidential election as a referendum on the Clinton-Gore administration’s handling of the affair. In light of the fallout from this incident, the Gore campaign surrendered any hope of winning the Latino vote in Miami and minimized its Spanish-language outreach efforts. This was hailed as a crucial mistake, as noted by Paulo Izquierdo, one of the consultants in charge of Gore’s Spanish-

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