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Spanish Language Political Ads Sometimes Alienate English Speakers

Julia Reihs/KUT
Beto O'Rourke speaks at the Texas State Capitol in August at the Rise Up rally for criminal justice reform.

From Texas Standard

As Election Day gets closer, the airwaves are getting more crowded with political ads. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and his challenger, Congressman Beto O'Rourke, in particular, have raised lots of money in their campaigns and are now spending it on TV and radio.

Austin-based Marketplace reporter Andy Uhler noticed some of the ads in English and Spanish are complicated by more than the issue of translation.

“What we’re seeing is this trend of ebb and flow in terms of who you think you’re getting to vote for you,” Uhler says. “If you’re Beto O’Rourke and you’re depending on that Hispanic vote, then you’re probably going to invest a lot of money into it.”

Uhler spoke with Marisa Abrajano, a political science professor at the University of California San Diego. She said political ads in English tend to include more policy topics such as economic growth, taxes and health care, while Spanish ads are driven by emotion and topics like religion and family values.

“If you design Spanish language ads that omit much more policy content than English language ads, then Spanish speaking voters are not getting the same kind of information that monolingual English language folks get,” Abrajano said.

The data on who speaks Spanish in neighborhoods and cities is too broad and doesn’t allow candidates to zero in on what specific households are speaking Spanish, Uhler says.

“You can have mailers, but you’re not going to individually look at who is speaking Spanish and how to advertise to them,” Uhler says. “I spoke to another researcher at Yale, Alex Coppock, he told me that the consequences for hitting somebody with an ad that doesn’t appeal to them in their language of choice, even if you’re bilingual, [has] huge negative consequences.”

Eighteen percent of monolingual English speakers will have a more negative reaction to Spanish ads.

“It could be that you kind of bristle if you hear an ad in Spanish,” Uhler says. “You want it to appeal to your culture if you’re a monolingual English-speaker. We don’t really have the why as to that negative reaction.”

Written by Brooke Vincent.

Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.
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