The Latino Vote

The Latino Vote


Spanish-Language Media and its Political Implications

According to the Pew Research Center, the 2020 US presidential election will be the first time that Hispanics will be the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the electorate. However, this is not the first time that Hispanic voters (also referred to as the “Latino vote”) have been given importance and media attention. In discussions of the Hispanic/Latino electorate, there is mention of increased voter turnout which is usually attributed to youth in this group coming of voting age. However, there is inadequate attention to how the media, particularly Spanish-language media, has mobilized these voters and how it has contributed to the political dynamics of this population. The impact of Spanish-language media does not rely solely on its usage of the Spanish language but also on its Latino perspectives and its growth across different media popularized during past federal elections. Referring to earlier federal elections and the effects of different mediums of Spanish-language media on voter turnout on this fast-growing electorate will attest to the importance and influence of the Latino/Hispanic identity in U.S. politics and media. It can also provide insight on potential outcomes of the Latino vote in the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

To start, one must address the public’s sentiments on the immediate and prevailing state of the presidential race―the approval rate of President Donald Trump and the state of the Democratic Party―as it pertains to Hispanic/Latino voters. News outlets like The New York Times believe the Latino vote will decide the 2020 election. In November 2019, the second-largest provider of Spanish-language content, Telemundo surveyed and found that nationally 25 percent of Latinos would vote to reelect President Donald Trump, a 3 percent decrease from the exit polls in 2016.1. Arguably, this is not a substantial percentage but perhaps something to consider as news articles about Democratic nominee Joe Biden frequents negative titles like: Slate’sBiden has a Rreal Latino Vvoters Pproblem,” The New York Times’ “Trump Is Harsh on Immigration. That Doesn’t Mean Biden Has the Latino Vote,” and Politico’s “Biden Sscrambles to Mmake Uup Gground with Latinos.” These articles’ titles touch on the Latino vote’s historical Democratic Party alignment, which dates back into the 1960s, and instills a panic in its Democratic readership.2 With the mention of large news outlets in disseminating information on public opinion, it is important to examine the medium that gave rise to the influence of Spanish-language media in the U.S. politics―television.

Spanish-Language Television as an Early Political Pundit

Televisions have graced nearly all U.S. households since the 1950s and streaming services and television packages often have Spanish-language networks readily available. However, this was not always the case. Against advocates of “English only laws” in 2003, the Federal Communications Commission facilitated and approved the merger between Univisión Communications, Inc. and Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation, the former being the leading Spanish language broadcast with 1.8 million viewers on average in 2013 and the latter being the largest Spanish language radio operator.3,4,5 

While the Commission specifically negated the claim that this merger occurred because of the specific needs of the Hispanic/Latino community, research revealed that there is a need and market for Spanish-language media due to the frequency of viewership of Spanish language networks among bilingual viewers and more than half of bilingual viewers preferring Spanish for their television programs.6 Other Spanish language programs like Telemundo’s Al Rojo Vivo and Univisión’s Noticiero Univision began to have increased viewership.7 With the Hispanic/Latino population attracting resources for an expanding Spanish-language media industry, there are more opportunities for the community to access political information in their preferred language, and this has political implications.

While there are many good reasons to provide entertainment and information in a growing minority population’s first language, the expansion of Spanish-language media in the U.S. is a result of the undeniable pathos of the industry’s profit-motive. The increasing economic appeal of the Hispanic/Latino demographic group pervaded U.S. television; in addition to an increase in Spanish-language media, “Hispanic/Latino representation at non-Hispanic TV stations rose from 5.9% in 2015 to 6.7% in 2016.”8,9 Politically speaking, it extended ease of accessibility to news of U.S. politics to the Hispanic/Latino community and gave politicians the chance to solicit Latino/Hispanic support for their campaign, bill, etc. The merger was significant in that it showed that Latinos were not perceived as “threats” to the United States, but as assimilating to the “civic body” of the United States that deserved access and acknowledgement of their politics.10 The acceptance towards Spanish-language television exceeds emotional significance as research provided evidence that it can actually mobilize voter turnout and increase it by at least 4 percentage points.11,12  

Spanish-language television networks were able to effectively appeal to Hispanic/Latino voters through the content of their coverage and broadcasting of campaign advertisements. This was demonstrated in the 2000 election, in which Univisión and Telemundo covered stories following the presidential campaign. What made this popular amongst the Spanish-speaking population is that it is reported and filtered news through a “Latino angle and emphasis.”13 From July 24 to August 4, 2000, Univisión and Telemundo covered the Republican Convention, which played into the success of the Republican Party’s strategy to convert its image of accepting and welcoming minorities into the Republican Party, a prescient warning of allegations of some Hispanic/Latino voters exiting the Democratic party.14

The presidential election of 2004 revealed that advertising cost candidates millions in hopes of obtaining more votes than others and for good reason; campaign messages via political ads affect voters.15 However, there is the belief that by simply expressing consideration to the Spanish-speaking population, Hispanic voters will feel more inclined to vote for the candidate, but that is not exactly what encourages their political participation.16While Spanish-language ads have more “character-based appeals” than English ads, the content of ads appealed to the different language speakers that make up the Hispanic/Latino community.17 Those who are more comfortable speaking Spanish responded well to cultural appeals of ads while those who are more comfortable speaking English responded well to both cultural appeals and information on policy issues, with more success with policy ads.18 

In the 2000 elections, there was a notable finding: if “Spanish-dominant Latinos” were shown Democratic Nominee Al Gore’s Spanish-language policy ad, these Spanish-dominant Latinos would have been more likely to vote for him. “English-dominant” Latinos were exposed to these ads and there was an increase in votes for him. In the 2004 presidential race, English-dominant Latinos that were exposed to Kerry’s Spanish-language policy ad were more than 50 percent likely to vote for Kerry.19 

More recently, Spanish-language media has led to the creation of organizations that work toward encouraging civic participation from Latinos. With networks like Univisión, Entravision, and impreMedia working with Mi Familia Vota (My Family Votes), National Council of La Raza (NCLR), and The National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), constant voting reminders from public service announcements on TV helped encourage those who would not have gone to vote had they not watched the network.20 The effort “Ya es hora—ve y vota” (it is time, go vote) was launched in 2008 and by 2012, its influence had only grown.21 Spanish-language television led numerous voting participation efforts, but not alone; as television saturated the media market Spanish-language radio listening surged alongside it.

Radio for Political Mobilization

Spanish-language radio’s growth was stunted by the belief of many radio station owners and advertisers assuming that the Spanish speaking audience would not be a profitable market, until its rapid growth from the 1980s to the early 2000s. At this time, Spanish-language radio became heavily involved in meeting the needs of the Hispanic community in terms of U.S. politics, to become a receptor of political influence. Post-merger, Univisión owned the Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation, which owned and/or operated “63 radio stations in 15 of the top 25 Hispanic markets.”22 Given that Latino radio has a higher listener rate than English-speaking radio, it was a way to reach Hispanic voters as campaigns did not reach them through other mediums.23,24. When U.S. Spanish-language radio stations began to provide political commentary and awareness, it was usually geared towards Mexican Americans. Specifically, Mexican radio show host Pedro González highlighted socioeconomic issues and discrimination that Mexican immigrants experienced in the United States.25 

In 2003, candidates who broadcast ads on radio stations did better amongst voters than those who did not.26 During the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore decided to make more appearances in the Latino-populated New Mexico and gave only a few interviews on Spanish-language radio stations compared to Bush who emphasized Spanish-language radio station interviews more so than Gore. In the presidential election, Gore lost Nevada to Bush by only 4 percentage points.27 Radio stations also physically brought voters to the polls as stations owned by Entravision Communications, Univisión’s affiliate, offered means of transportation to voters.28

In the 2006 congressional elections, a study by the University of Utah wanted to analyze the relationship between voter turnout and Spanish-language radio station ads. In the study, lead researcher Costas Panagopoulos recognized that ethnic media in the popular language spoken of the group is important to ethnic groups’ access to political information. In addition, they found radio to be a more personal medium, which had a profound effect on Latino voter turnout compared to other forms of voter solicitation such as mail, email, phone calls, text messaging. Actually, they found translated reminders to vote (via text messaging, mail, email) aimed at ethnic groups to be fairly ineffective, with no statistical effect on voter turnout.29 

The function of these radio station ads was merely to motivate people to vote by sharing the names and party affiliation of those running in the race. The ads were strictly nonpartisan and offered no analysis or commentary on the stances of each candidate; issues that they believed would interest Hispanic listeners were mentioned. An economical choice and one that is not inherently divisive, radio ads continue to be a sound choice for voter mobilization, and even a source of contention.

Television and Radio Ads in the 2020 Presidential Election

Provided that advertisements carry the same kind of impact, it is no surprise that President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden are engaging in a spending war on Spanish-language advertising to win over Latino voters. Newsweek reported that Trump spent more than $1.4 million on Spanish-language ads since June 2020, until Biden outspent Trump $930,612 to $825,335 in July 2020.30 Notably, Trump has utilized the Hispanic food company Goya and their controversial support to launch a Spanish-language television ad to undercut Biden’s candidacy and undermine Democrats’ policies. These recent happenings are crucial because they reinforce that television and radio remain critical media markets to reach Hispanic/Latino voters, despite the indisputable impact the internet has.

The Internet’s Presidential Power

In the mid 1990s, the internet began expanding into a commercial mass medium and by the 2010s, 65 percent of Latinos used the internet frequently.31 While many Spanish-language internet sites were created at this time, few had the staying power of and, with Univisión already having the leading television network, Telemundo a close second. Univisión’s website was used the most in the period of 2000 to 2006. It wasn’t until later, with increased access to internet connection at home, that “the television networks had archived significant volumes of video online [. . .] Mobile devices also became popular for streaming video at that time.”32 

In the 2000s election, the internet played a role, with tapings of Univisión and  Telemundo. Two authors would watch the two tapings twice to take notes, distinguish any discrepancies, and comment on content.33. Afterward, the authors would then discuss the coverage and their notes among themselves and prepare an analysis that would be sent to Hispanic Trends for it to be published online on Touching on the civic participation campaigns that began with television networks, Ya Es Hora (It is time) was created out of the efforts from NALEO, NCLR, Univisión, ImpreMedia, Mi Familia Vota (My Family Votes), and Entravision Communications.34 This campaign was made right before the 2012 elections to encourage Latinos to fill the 2010 Census, register to vote, and apply for citizenship/ green card.

Founded in 2004, Voto Latino Foundation is “a grassroots political organization focused on educating and empowering a new generation of Latinx voters, as well as creating a more robust and inclusive democracy [. . .] through innovative digital campaigns, culturally relevant programs and authentic voices.35 The organization leveraged the fact that many eligible Latino voters are young and created a nationwide campaign that relied on social media, even using a Facebook giveaway of 30 songs to those who pledged to vote in the 2012 election.36 Political campaigns especially benefit from increased internet use, utilizing the common practice of  micro-targeting—the process of dividing the electorate into distinct niches and then pandering to them with personalized digital messages and ads.

The internet does not only afford endless opportunities for organizations and business corporations, but also to everyday people and minority groups like the dreamers’ (recipients of The DREAM Act”) whose very existence is stigmatized. With the current age of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, the community found in online forums and social media can both be a safe haven or a site for publicity and protest. These youth find solace in the former, where their status can remain unknown to their peers. Conversely, many individuals of this group publicly self-identify and use their platform to advocate for their cause and to critique the U.S. political system, to the point where they may decide to engage in civil disobedience offline 37 In both cases, this points to use of the internet as a tool for acculturation and social change. Users have the opportunity to relay and access personal accounts tied to political issues which can affect public opinion and consequently, political outcomes.


With the growing voting turnout of Hispanic/Latino voters and the considerable size of their voting bloc, the Latino vote is seen as crucial to the 2020 presidential election outcomes. With efforts from past and present campaigns to win Latino support, it is understood that a significant factor in voter turnout is outreach. Looking to the internet and social media, tracing back to television and radio in their respective primes, Spanish-language use is note-worthy but the salient quality is the Hispanic/Latino “slant.” Historically, English-language Anglo media in the United States has offered an outsider’s view on parts of the lives of Latinos; U.S. Spanish-language media allows for a more complete picture of Latino lives and perspectives to be represented. Ultimately, to provide Hispanic/Latinos with media reported from a Hispanic/Latino angle is to give them control over political narratives and guide political participation for the greater Hispanic/Latino community.

  1. (Laura Barrón-López, “Trump Holds Steady among Latinos in New Poll,” Politico, March 8, 2020.
  2. Benjamin Francis-Fallon, The Rise of the Latino Vote, (Harvard University Press, 2019), 5.
  3. Alison Perlman, “The National Hispanic Media Coalition, Spanish-Language Broadcasting, and Latino Media Advocacy,” Public Interests: Media Advocacy and Struggles Over US Television (Rutgers University Press, 2016), 154.
  4. Katie Coronado and Erica Kight, LatinX Voices (Routledge, 2018), 184.
  5. Charles Goldfarb, “Spanish Language Media After the Univision-Hispanic Broadcasting Merger: Issues for Congress,” October 20, 2003, University of North Texas Libraries, Government Documents Department, 1.
  6. Goldfarb, “Spanish Language Media After the Univision-Hispanic Broadcasting Merger: Issues for Congress,” 21.
  7. Coronado and Kight, LatinX Voices, 155.
  8. Arlene Dávila and Yedi M. Rivero, Contemporary Latina/o media: Production, Circulation, Politics (New York University Press), 32.
  9. Coronado and Kight, LatinX Voices, 235.
  10. Perlman, “The National Hispanic Media Coalition, Spanish-Language Broadcasting, and Latino Media Advocacy,” 154.
  11. Sergio Garcia-Rios and MattBarreto, “Politicized Immigrant Identity, Spanish-Language Media, and Political Mobilization in 2012,” RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, vol. 2, no. 3 (2016): 84.
  12. Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Joel Waldfogel, “Media Markets and Localism: Does Local News en Español Boost Hispanic Voter Turnout?,” American Economic Review, 99(5), 2.
  13. Federico Subervi-Velez, The Mass Media and Latino Politics: Studies of U.S. Media Content, Campaign Strategies and Survey Research: 1984-2004, (Routledge, 2008), 155.
  14. Subervi-Velez, The Mass Media and Latino Politics, 157).
  15. Maris Abrajano, Campaigning to the New American Electorate: Advertising to Latino Voters, 84.
  16. Francis-Fallon, The Rise of the Latino Vote, 241
  17. Abrajano, Campaigning to the New American Electorate, 84.
  18. Abrajano, Campaigning to the New American Electorate, 88.
  19. Abrajano, Campaigning to the New American Electorate 90.
  20. Garcia-Rios and Barreto, “Politicized Immigrant Identity, Spanish-Language Media, and Political Mobilization in 2012,” 84.
  21. Garcia-Rios and Barreto, “Politicized Immigrant Identity, Spanish-Language Media, and Political Mobilization in 2012,” 86.
  22. Goldfarb “Spanish Language Media After the Univision-Hispanic Broadcasting Merger: Issues for Congress,” 39.
  23. Dávila and Rivero, Contemporary Latina/o Media, 187.
  24. Costas Panagopoulos and Donald P. Green, “Spanish-Language Radio Advertisements and Latino Voter Turnout in the 2006 Congressional Elections: Field Experimental Evidence,” Political Research Quarterly 64, no. 3 (September 2011), 590.
  25. Subervi-Velez, The Mass Media and Latino Politics, 26.
  26. Panagopoulos and Green, “Spanish-Language Radio Advertisements and Latino Voter Turnout in the 2006 Congressional Elections,” 3.
  27. Abrajano, Campaigning to the New American Electorate, 38.
  28. Garcia-Rios and Barreto, “Politicized immigrant Identity, Spanish-Language Media, and Political Mobilization in 2012,” 84).
  29. Panagopoulos and Green, “Spanish-Language Radio Advertisements and Latino Voter Turnout in the 2006 Congressional Elections.”
  30. Adrian Carrasquillo, “Trump Outspent Biden in Spanish-Language Ads in Battle for Hispanic Vote,” Newsweek, July 29, 2020.
  31. Coronado and Kight, LatinX Voices, 159.
  32. Coronado and Kight, LatinX Voices, 155.
  33. Subervi-Velez, The Mass Media and Latino Politics, 155.
  34. Sophia Wallace, “It’s Complicated: Latinos, President Obama, and the 2012 Election*,” Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 93, no. 5 (2012), 5).
  35. “About,” Voto Latino.
  36. Wallace, “It’s Complicated,” 5.
  37. Dávila and Rivero, Contemporary Latina/o Media, 255.
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