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Winning the Latino Vote — McCain’s Blunder, Obama’s Advantage

ANTA MONICA, Calif., Oct 28, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) — With barely a week left in the campaign, the anticipated record-breaking turnout of at least 9.2 million Hispanic voters could be key to winning swing states such as New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado.
In June 2008 when general election campaigning began in earnest, in an article entitled “Winning the Latino Vote in the General Election,” as head of Poza Consulting Services (a market research and strategic planning consultancy targeting U.S. general market and Latino audiences) I explained that the key to reaching Hispanic voters was to focus on their needs as the hardest hit of the hardest hit in the current economic downturn.
The average U.S. Latino has more children and earns less than the average American. The relatively lower-paying jobs Latinos tend to hold typically don’t offer health insurance, further endangering their tenuous grasp on economic survival. Added to this, the vast majority of jobs held by Latinos are in construction and service industries, among the first and worst hit in the current economic crisis. Unemployment statistics for the state of California bear this out, reporting a 2.1% increase for Latino workers from July 2007 to July 2008 compared to a 1.2% increase for non-Latino Caucasians during the same period. Among the ranks of the working class currently struggling for survival, Latinos represent a disproportionately high number.
It’s interesting to see how strategy has evolved or devolved for each candidate in the face of this.
Whereas in June John McCain had strong ads targeting Latinos speaking directly to their struggles with soaring gas and grocery prices, in recent months his campaign has changed course, airing ads that focus on the overworked ‘values’ theme. A personal testimonial in Spanish from fellow vet Frank Gamboa says, “…He shares our conservative values and our faith in God. He knows family is the most important thing and that we value hard work.”
This ‘values’ theme has been used to pitch Latinos for 25+ years on everything from car insurance to juice drinks and these consumers have more than noticed. I routinely advise clients to avoid this generic approach that does not distinguish their message or brand from anything or anyone and often draws sneers from the now more cynical Latino audience. As a Los Angeles Latina commented in a recent focus group, “I’m not an idiot. Do you think that just because you invoke God and Family I’m going to buy or believe whatever you’re selling? I have a family to feed. What can you tell me about that?”
This strategic blunder this close to the finish line is symptomatic of the McCain campaign. It suggests early ads targeting the economy were a lucky shot in the dark rather than a strategic insight.
By contrast, Obama’s campaign as recently as June did not appear to have a strategy for targeting Latino voters; however, it did have the good judgment to incorporate hip and catchy videos made by Miguel Orozco, an enthusiastic supporter passionate about Obama’s candidacy and ‘introducing him’ to fellow Latinos. While hip and catchy, these videos did not specifically promote Obama as a candidate who understands the challenges Latinos face.
Recent ads however do. A television ad in Spanish titled “No Greater Priority” calls out hardships facing Latinos in New Mexico, including soaring unemployment rates, the rising number of homes in foreclosure and the increasing number of children without health insurance, contrasted with McCain’s now famous comment of “the fundamentals of our economy are strong.” Radio ads deliver focused messages comparing McCain’s healthcare plan to Obama’s, suggesting McCain favors insurance companies while Obama favors Latino families.
The latest CNN/Opinion Research Corp. polls show Obama leading McCain 65 to 30% nationally among Latinos. And in the important swing state of New Mexico recent polls show McCain’s 4-point lead disappears when the Latino vote (32.4% of registered voters) is factored in, leaving Obama with an 8-point lead.
For Latinos, as with any demographic group, there is no inherent mystery in getting their vote. It’s a matter of understanding what is most important to them and then clearly communicating that understanding. Many have wondered why Hillary Clinton, “an upper class White lady” as one blogger put it, was so successful with Latino voters. Some suggested it was Black-Brown tensions undermining Obama, but this was not the case. During the primaries when Obama’s outreach to Latino voters was nearly non-existent, Clinton’s campaign was bulls-eyeing the needs of working class families, reaching out to Latinos with this same message.
And while some are surprised to see Obama carrying the Hispanic vote in states previously won by Hillary Clinton, this is also no mystery given that he has picked up where Hillary left off, refining his strategy as evidenced in his recent Spanish language ads.
As for John McCain, in a campaign that has careened from tactic to tactic, void of coherent strategy or sense, it seems he almost hit and then veered away from the opportunity to connect with and win what could have been a decisive voter block for him in this election.
Ines Poza, Ph.D., is the owner of Poza Consulting Services, a market research and strategic consulting firm based in Santa Monica, CA. Contact Dr. Poza at 310.264.4637.
SOURCE: Poza Consulting Services
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November 3, 2008 - Posted by | **MAIN**, Politics | , , , , , , ,

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