For campaigns looking to gain an edge with Hispanic voters, a new study links advertising on television in Spanish with a “statistically significant” increase in turnout of Latinx voters.
It’s the latest research to show that investing in Spanish-language media is a good bet for campaigns – a perennial debate in political media circles. For the most part, campaigns have been cautious when it comes to investing heavily in Spanish-language advertising. And some traditional media consultants and ad buyers have dismissed a steady drip of research as potentially flawed – at the very least suggesting there isn’t enough evidence to justify a substantial increase in investment.
Acknowledging the skepticism, the researchers from TargetSmart, a Democratic data firm, told C&E that their study’s design sets it apart and the evidence now is that Spanish-language advertising boosts turnout.
The latest report adds weight to a catalog of research that has sought to overcome the reluctance of campaigns on both sides to invest significantly in Spanish-language advertising. In 2018, Latino Decisions released a study touting the effectiveness of advertising in Spanish early and throughout a campaign.
This spring, Univision partnered with L2 on a data analysis that showed Latinx voter registration and turnout was increasing in states including Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The April report concluded that Latinx voters are “key to determining our country’s next leaders from the White House to the statehouse.”
Last week, Telemundo came out with its own research, which found that overall a “$1 million increase in Spanish advertising spending in a given media market predicts a mean increase of 0.15 percentage points in Latinx turnout at the precinct level.” The study looked at turnout in congressional elections from 2012-2018.
The report adds that “English-language ad spending does not predict significantly increased Latinx turnout at the precinct level,” which goes against conventional wisdom that targeting Hispanic voters should be done in English.
The study, which was based on data from 80,249 voting precincts in 83 separate media markets combined with Kantar Media/CMAG and Telemundo station data, used synthetic controls to “generate estimates of the effects of increasing Spanish advertising spending in individual markets.”
The researchers write: “Synthetic controls are used to generate a composite comparison case for each media market and are analogous to a medical trial where patients are randomized into treatment and control conditions.”
TargetSmart research analyst Yu-Ming Liou said the use of synthetic controls was what set their analysis apart from similar studies.
“A lot of times you’re not comparing apples to apples. This one we’re really taking a lot of care to do that,” Liou said. “From a social science research perspective, this is about as good as it gets with observational data. The way that we’re doing it, controlling for all of these idiosyncrasies at the precinct or market level, for a non-monolithic community, accounting for that diversity, we are seeing that effect.”
The study, done over spring and early summer, didn’t analyze the types of messaging in Spanish-language advertising that drive turnout.
But analyzing Spanish-language ad spending overall from 2016-2018, researchers measured significant increases in turnout — some ranging from 3.9 to 14.5 percent above the synthetic control case.
The impact of Spanish-language advertising was most notable in California, Texas, and across the Southwest. For instance, higher spending on Spanish-language ads in Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas, Houston, San Francisco, San Diego corresponded to increases in turnout from 6.2-14 percent.
Traditional Democratic media consultants remain skeptical. Some predicted that established spending patterns won’t change unless there’s an argument to make that Latino turnout, which has been strongly Democratic, should be targeted.
Otherwise, media consultants will find themselves doing the usual couple of ads in Spanish each cycle. Meanwhile, Democratic media buyers say they haven’t seen any shift yet toward Spanish-language media, and instead early research requests have been to determine whether Spanish language viewers also watch English-language stations.
Ben Lazarus, director of research and analytics at TargetSmart, admits that Latinx voters’ early poll numbers don’t point to needing a spending deluge to get them into the D column.
“The numbers are solid right now, anti-Trump, but they could go either way and the markets that really matter” could be decided by 1-2 points, Lazarus said.
“On the Democratic side, unfortunately, it is too frequently an afterthought in terms of where the budget is, and it’s not done the same way” as English-language advertising,” said Lazarus.
Kelly Gibson, a Democratic media consultant, said that she makes decisions on whether to run a spot in English or Spanish “based on language preferences in browser settings.”
“What we are getting lots of demand for is persuasion that matches the audience, and with Spanish language we can make decisions about Spanish [versus] English, based on language preferences in browser settings,” she said, noting that Telemundo and Univision are still the dominant channels for reaching Latinx voters on television.
“Obviously the location and constituent makeup are the data points that decide whether it’s necessary,” she said.
Communications consultant Felipe Benitez of Benitez Strategies said that a comprehensive program targeting Latinx voters extends beyond just TV advertising.
“The greatest untapped opportunity out there is Latinx millennials,” Benitez told C&E in a recent interview. “Moving beyond just having a website or an ad that speaks in Spanish, there’s a whole another level of specialization, of microtargeting you can be doing.”
TargetSmart’s Lazarus agreed. “It’s [advertising] across all mediums,” he said. “It’s on television, but it’s also on their smartphones and in their inboxes and on the radio.”
Running that type of cross-channel outreach campaign in Spanish is challenging if a consultant is only used to paying lip service to Latinx outreach. To wit, in spring several Democratic presidential candidates were criticized for the poor translations on their Spanish-language websites.
“Some of the errors were egregious, such as referring to women in the masculine, or a candidate saying she had ‘wasted her life’ in public service in a bungled translation,” José Dante Parra, CEO of ProsperoLatino, wrote in C&E.