Spanish Language Political Ads Sometimes Alienate English Speakers

For Spanish speakers, ad content includes less information about policy, and more about religion and family values.

By Laura RiceNovember 2, 2018 10:51 am,

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.”

18 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.