The Hill (Op-Ed)
By Maria de Moya
February 16, 2016
If there’s a vote that can tip the scales between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Hillary Clinton; or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Donald Trump -- it’s the Latino vote. An estimated 27 million Latino millennials are eligible to vote in this year’s presidential election. However, the message that they’ve been receiving from candidates has ranged from framing Latinos and immigrants as deserving of the rights and privileges of citizenship; to fearmongering around those perceived to threaten the “American way of life.”
In political narratives, Latinos –whether U.S. naturals or immigrants— are portrayed as saints or sinners, with very little in between.
No doubt these presidential hopefuls want the Latino vote, yet their messages are paradoxically off-putting for many of these voters. From the Democrat camp, pandering seems to be the norm (see Hillary’s attempt to relate to abuelas). While Republican candidates can’t seem to agree on which of them will be the strictest with the amnesty-seeking, anchor-baby delivering criminals who jumped the border into the U.S. This reductive and tone-deaf narrative is alienating.
As a scholar and expert on message framing, I am well aware of the impact that poorly constructed messages can have on their intended (or unintended) audience. As in any election, candidates design their messages to get the most votes from the highest number of people, but in approaching this as candidates have, they’re showing disregard for the Latino vote and alienated an important part of their constituents still very much up for grabs. The National Council of La Raza/Latino Decisions poll found 55 percent of Latino voters said they would support a candidate that shared their view on issues, positions and priorities. But that suitor seems hard to find.
So far, messages for and about Latinos are being reduced to common denominators, such as immigration and speaking Spanish. No doubt, immigration is an important issue for Latinos. But, the data is clear that, in fact, that Latino voters have the same concerns that many other voters have: jobs, economy, taxes, health, safety and overall quality of life.
Yet, candidates seem stuck in a loop talking only about immigration and ignoring the fact that close to 30 percent of Latinos don’t speak Spanish at home. Both of which perpetuate a dangerous narrative: whether first or tenth generation Americans, Latinos are as foreign to the candidates as the people that live outside of the country’s borders.
The Pew Research Center estimates that in the last four years, close to 3.2 million Latino U.S.-citizen have become adults eligible to vote, and another 1.2 million immigrants are now naturalized citizens. And these desirable voters are paying close attention to this year’s election. A new poll found that 43 percent of Latinos are more interested in the 2016 presidential election than in the previous one, and 33 percent said they were following it as closely as the past elections. But surely those following closely must not like what they see.
The political narrative remains stagnant and to be excluding this essential group of people that could decide the next election. Meanwhile, non-partisan Latino-serving organizations like Voto Latino and Mi Familia Vota are helping people register to vote and empowering the become informed voters. So unless candidates can change their strategy quickly, they might find that they’ve veered off the path to the Latino vote too far to find their way back.
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