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The Latino Wave
How Hispanics Are Transforming Politics in America
Making History: How Latinos Decided the 2000 Presidential Election
The Latino vote put George W. Bush into the White House. Which is no great surprise, considering that he occasionally refers to himself as "Jorge Bush."
Bush knew that Hispanic voters were different from whites, blacks, and Asians, and he treated them differently. It's thanks to this that he won Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Texas, and Florida. Put another way, Bush won 5 of the 10 states where over 10 percent of the population is of Latin origin. The 2000 White House was won with an accurately targeted political strategy that proved critical in his victory over Al Gore. Bush had good reason to focus his efforts on Latinos. They -- and no other minority -- gave him the final push he needed to reach the White House.
Bush has never underestimated the growing importance of the Hipanic vote. When he first won the election to be governor of Texas in 1994, he did so with 29 percent of the Hispanic vote, which was enough to defeat the popular incumbent governor Ann Richards. This 29 percent may not sound like much, but it is a considerable increase over the 23 percent of Texas Hispanics who voted for his father, George H. W. Bush, in the 1988 presidential election. When you are talking about thousands of votes, 6 percent is a huge number.
Bush quickly grasped that his political future in Texas could very well depend on capturing the Latino vote, and during his gubernatorial reelection in 1998 the figure had risen to a surprising 38 percent.
You don't have to be a professional analyst tosee that Bush instinctively knows where key votes lie. Since 1994, his strategy has been the same: gain more of the Latino vote. How? Appear on Hispanic television, speak -- or try to speak -- Spanish, and emphasize the importance of family. Regarding this latter point, Bush had a distinct advantage over his opponents in the 2000 presidential race: his own tightly knit Bush clan, was very much in evidence.
One of the most comprehensive studies done on the Hispanic vote in the 2000 elections -- conducted by Adam J. Segal, director of the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University -- concluded that Bush and the Republicans spent more than twice what Gore and the Democrats did for airtime on Spanish television. According to the study, entitled "The Hispanic Priority," Bush and his party spent some $2,274,000 on Spanish-language TV ads, whereas Gore's expenditure totaled only $960,000. (Gore's investment was only slightly more than the $909,000 amount that Bill Clinton spent during his reelection campaign of 1996.)
But that's not all. Gore and the Democrats committed a fatal error in deciding to spend absolutely nothing on ads to run on Miami channels 23 (Univision) and 51 (Telemundo). They are the two most watched Spanish channels in south Florida, and their ratings frequently surpass those of the English-language news broadcasts. Bush and the Republicans, on the other hand, spent some $785,000 on paid political ads to be broadcast on Univision and Telemundo's Miami affiliates.2 Cuban Americans in Miami gave their votes -- and thus victory -- to Bush in Florida. "In a decision that ultimately may have won Bush the presidency, his campaign and the RNC heavily targeted the Spanish-language television stations in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, and Tampa as part of an aggressive strategy to win the state of Florida and its 25 electoral votes (out of 538 total)," according to Adam Segal.
The critical question, which may sound ironic, is whether Hispanic voters really do watch Spanish-language television. All signs point to "yes," and the numbers are growing. The New York Times, using a study conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, calculated that "about half of Latino voters said they got their news on television in English, 27 percent said they watch English and Spanish news, and 19 percent tune in to Spanish newscasts most of the time." Which is to say, 46 out of every 100 Latinos get at least some of their news in Spanish. This figure is supported by data collected by Hispanic Trends, which puts the figure at 45 percent. But what's really interesting is that, in 1990, only 1 in 4 Hispanics watched Spanish-language news. The figure has nearly doubled. Hispanic viewers of television are multiplying, and quickly.
The impact that Univision and Telemundo had on Hispanic voters is unquestionable. Adam Segal, from Johns Hopkins University, cites Leonard Rodriguez, a former Bush campaign staff member and consultant, who says: "The leader, Univision, draws more than 4 million U.S. viewers to at least one of its national news shows and its credibility was recently proven with an Emmy for reporting ... Telemundo is also undergoing phenomenal growth." Pablo Izquierdo, a Hispanic advertising consultant to the Gore campaign, confirms this: "They are crucial ... Nielsen has rated the Miami Univision station several times being even more watched during prime time than general market stations."
Both networks' influence is expanding. NBC paid over $2 billion to acquire Telemundo, and Univision -- which owns or is affiliated with some 50 Spanish-language television stations -- has acquired the Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation (HBC), which encompasses 63 radio stations across the country. The U.S. Department of Justice approved the $3.5 billion transaction in February 2003, thus "paving the way for a behemoth that will dominate Spanish-language television, radio, music publishing and the Internet."
Hispanics are particularly concerned with their children's educations, and with the threats their families face -- including drugs, violence, gangs, and divorce -- in North American society. It should come as no surprise, then, that both campaigns focused their messages on such themes as how to protect families from high medical bills, school quality, dropout rates, and the problems posed by crime. But differences in presentation were apparent even in the titles the ads used: the Republican commercials were highly personal -- "Same as Mine," "How About You?" "The American Dream for Everyone" -- while the Democrats' were more direct -- "Your Vote," "Issues," and "Faces of North America."The Latino Wave
How Hispanics Are Transforming Politics in America. Copyright © by Jorge Ramos. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.