By Tommi Pryor
While many political pundits, consultants and candidates talk about the significance of the Hispanic vote in the upcoming elections, in reality there are major problems reaching the potential of this political bloc.
According to Pew Research Center, the likely reason why the U.S. Hispanic vote has not measured up to its potential is because of the large number of individuals in that population who are ineligible to vote.
Each month, some 50,000 U.S. Hispanic youth turn 18 years of age with 87% of them eligible to vote according to Maria Teresa Petersen, executive director of Voto Latino. In fact, the Hispanic teen population is predicted to grow 62% by 2010, just a scant two years away. By comparison, the growth rate among all U.S. teens for the same period is forecast at only ten percent making for a stunning contrast.
Although U.S. Hispanics have traditionally registered to vote in far fewer numbers than their Caucasian counterparts, this is likely to change as the number reaching voting age continues to rise. Demonstrating the potential of this, a study by Pew Hispanic Center (PHC) determined that if Hispanics registered and voted at roughly the same rates as whites in 2004, they would have cast 2.7 million more votes (36%) in 2006 than they did in 2004. This would have more than enough to affect close races according to PHC. Statistics are not yet available for 2008, but we can assume that the trend continued.
The bottom line is that there is an opportunity today, and likely a necessity tomorrow, to engage these would-be voters who can, who will, in fact, who are an influential force in US elections.
The first step in the engagement process, quite obviously, is to motivate Hispanic youth to register to vote. But, the question remains on how best to reach this emerging group and, in fact, all U.S. Hispanics if desired.
According to a recent article by Associated Press writer Laura Wides-Munoz, citing another Pew affiliate’s study, “one of the most effective ways to reach Hispanic teens is online.” The study found that approximately 56% of U.S. Hispanics use the Internet as compared with 71% of non-Hispanic whites and 60% of non-Hispanic blacks in the U.S. However, the most compelling finding presented is that the number of Hispanics online dramatically increases to 67% in the 18-27 year old age group.
Wides-Munoz goes on to make the point that “this is the group reported to be most likely to visit and participate in social networking sites to support a cause.” She tells how this translates to the real world using the example of Voto Latino, which successfully registered 38,000 young Hispanic voters in under eight weeks. This was accomplished “by entering their world of cell phone text messaging and online social networks” the article stated.
Among the general social networking sites, Hispanic teens reportedly have a much bigger presence on myspace.com than facebook.com. The sites that specifically court Hispanics, or specifically Hispanic youth, include MiGente, an English-language social networking site targeted to Hispanics, and bilingual sites such as elHood.com, QuePasa.com, MyGrito.com and Vostu.com.
Increasing the ante, research shows that “Hispanic online users tend to be more affluent, more educated, and “more Americanized” than the overall Hispanic population in the U.S. —and on average they're ten years younger than the general online market.”
In fact, according to Lee Vann, CEO of Captura Group, there are more than 16 million Hispanics online making this the fastest-growing segment of Internet users and outpacing the overall U.S. market by 15 times.
In addition to social networking sites and blogs, advertising placed on the web editions of newspapers and magazines that draw an Hispanic audience are also a great place to push a voter registration or candidate message.
Another strategy, and one that provides the opportunity for micro-segmentation and targeting, is direct marketing.
A multi-channel approach utilizing digital direct mail, email marketing, voice broadcasting, and click-through web landing pages--all capable of data-driven customizations using advanced technologies--can be very powerful. By going beyond the direct marketing personalization of yesterday, to messaging tailored to the individual recipient, these prospective voters can be engaged in greater numbers.
The important thing to note is that these technologies can only be as effective as the data behind them. Simply put, not all direct marketing data resources offer deep demographics and selection criteria. While the best resource would be one offering attributes that fit into such categories as lifestyle, interests, behaviors, finances, and beliefs, these are limited in number and need to be sought out. Most particularly, experience gained by commercial advertisers to Hispanic consumers has demonstrated that “country of origin” and “language preference”, are essential direct marketing list attributes.
The reasons are simple if not obvious. Regarding “country of origin”, this becomes important in realizing that U.S. Hispanics come from some 20 counties spanning South and Central American, the Caribbean, Mexico and Spain. While typically sharing the Spanish language, although not always, each group has its own customs, beliefs and cultural influences and practices.
In addition, the political issues of interest to one geographic segment over another may differ. A classic example is the ongoing debate over the fence being constructed on the U.S.-Mexico border. While a hot button issue for U.S. Hispanics with Mexican roots, this may not engage those of Cuban or Caribbean origin at the same level. The ability to vary a campaign’s messaging by “country of origin” can, as a result, be very empowering.
The same is true regarding the “language preference” attribute offered by several direct marketing data companies that make Hispanic lists available. Once again, research in the consumer advertising sectors demonstrates that much higher open and response rates are achieved by delivering messages in the recipient’s preferred language.
For those campaigns with the resources to micro-target at a deeper level, attributes such as married/single, number and ages of children, homeowner/renter, senior or veteran in the home, age, gender, education level, occupation, income range or net worth, donor causes supported, political conservative/liberal, political party, hobbies and interests by category, and others can be utilized to drive message content.
While external lists will need to be utilized for voter registration purposes, political campaigns can use these same principles to optimize response to their calls-to-action to (already) registered voters and donors. The data provider that provides the campaign with its external Hispanic lists should be able to enhance the campaign’s housefile lists (voter, donor and volunteers) with these same attributes.
Given the potential to draw vast numbers of prospective Hispanic voters to their candidates and issues, political parties at every level should start building affinity with this potential future voting pool now. Candidates and initiative sponsors should use these strategies to register additional voters of all ages and get them to the polls.