Hispanic Media Influence Grows in Election Year

Laura Wides-Munoz, WTOP-FM (Washington, D.C.), October 20, 2010

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Spanish-language networks and publications are taking on a more prominent role this election season, nabbing debates with major candidates and increasingly seeing their political coverage spin out into mainstream English-language media.

The attention highlights not only the growing influence of Hispanics, the nation’s largest and fastest-growing minority group, but also the power of the companies that provide much of their news.

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Even those who toe a hard line on immigration are seeking to make their case in Spanish-language media, recognizing that they need some Hispanic votes to win and that Hispanics–who account for 9 percent of registered voters nationwide–are concerned about more than that one issue.

During Florida’s primary season, for example, Republican gubernatorial candidates Rick Scott and Bill McCollum had their first debate on Univision, even as they competed to see who could stake out the harshest stance against illegal immigrants.

“The tighter the race–and there are many this year–the more you reach out to niche constituents, and Latinos are niche constituents,” said Texas State University Professor Federico Subervi and author of the “The Mass Media and Latino Politics.

Subervi believes the interest in Hispanic media is particularly high for a midterm election because the Arizona immigration law has become such a hot topic.

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But it’s also the result of a concerted effort by companies like Univision to “plant the flag and reach out to mainstream political figures,” said Jose Cancela, head of the Miami-based marketing firm Hispanic USA.

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Univision Networks President Cesar Conde has made political coverage a top priority, beginning with the company’s first presidential debate in 2008. {snip}

“We need to step up our efforts to ensure that the Hispanic swing vote is best equipped to make responsible and informed decisions,” he said.

The company will also run a get out the vote effort across all its shows Tuesday and has declined to air Republican-backed ads urging Hispanics not to vote for any congressional representatives in response to Washington’s failure to pass any immigration reform.

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Spanish-language media, particularly TV, holds sway among so many Hispanics in part because mainstream media has often ignored them, except when it came to crime or immigration. For years, it was the only place where Hispanics, even those who prefer to communicate in English, could see themselves reflected.

Still, when it comes to Hispanic media, immigration remains a top draw both for its core audience and for those looking to take the pulse of the Hispanic electorate.

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