Why Democrats Think Anti-Romney Ads Work Better in Spanish

The new science of winning campaigns
Sept. 21 2012 6:43 PM

Why Democrats Think Anti-Romney Ads Work Better in Spanish

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Mitt Romney takes part in Univision's show 'Gran Encuentro' with moderators Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas in Miami on September 19.

Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages

When Priorities USA and SEIU, two of the leading liberal players in the presidential campaign, decided that they wanted to roll out another round of anti-Romney ads aimed at Hispanic voters, the groups had a big decision to make. Should the ads be in Spanish or English?

At least half of American Hispanics say they consume only English-language media. Yet marketers who specialize in targeting Hispanics regularly pitch political campaigns on the cultural value of airing ads in Spanish-language outlets, from national networks like Univision and Telemundo to individual radio stations. Running ads in Spanish will be taken by voters as a sign of respect, they say.

But one Democratic research outfit has found that, in 2012 at least, the decision of whether to speak to Hispanics in Spanish or English is far from solely an aesthetic choice. Earlier this year, Project New America, a Denver-based consulting firm that develops strategic guidance for Democrats competing in areas that have not been traditional demographic strongholds, built a microtargeting model to profile Hispanic voters nationwide. When firm analysts isolated the characteristics that differentiated voters based on their candidate preference, one stood out: those who consumed news from both Spanish and English sources were predicted to be undecided at a much higher rate than English-language dominant Hispanics.

Project New America shared the finding with its clients, including Priorities USA and SEIU, two of the groups most active in trying to persuade Hispanic voters on Obama’s behalf. When they this week unveiled a new joint ad—featuring testimonials from Latino voters explaining why they would not vote for Romney—the voices were all in Spanish. The ad is now airing on Univision and Telemundo, along with Azteca América and Entravision affiliates.  (According to Project New America’s research, between one-third and half of Hispanics describe themselves as bilingual news consumers, with fewer than ten percent Spanish-only and the remainder English-only, although it varies by state.)

When Project New America polled earlier this summer, at a time when Obama and his allies were aggressively attacking Romney in media, its analysts found that Spanish-speaking Hispanics shifted opinions more dramatically than those who consumed news only in English. They found Romney’s unfavorable rating among Colorado Hispanics increased nine points over six weeks between May and July; among Spanish-language news consumers, it moved by 21 points. There were similar results in Nevada.

The findings are likely to guide other pro-Obama advertisers looking to sway Hispanics to keep their ads popping up between soccer and telenovelas. “This research showed that Spanish-language communication was extremely powerful to fill in the unknowns about Romney,” says Project New America research director David Winkler.

Sasha Issenberg is the author of The Victory Lab about the new science of political campaigns.

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