Presidential candidates quietly vying for Latino vote

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Immigration issues were a divisive force in the 2004 election, so this year’s candidates are taking a quieter, more direct approach to reaching the Latino population, says a Purdue University political scientist.

“What we’re seeing instead is microtargeting the Latino demographic,” says James McCann, a professor of political science who is surveying Mexican immigrants regarding political participation and other civic issues.

“Instead of mass appeals, commercials and speeches, the candidates are airing Spanish commercials in specific cities with large Latino populations. The Republican and Democratic parties also are reaching Latinos through surrogate leadership and outreach through the local grassroots levels and politicians. The emphasis on the demographic is there, but it’s not visible to everyone.”

McCann says this political strategy also is focusing on the candidates’ character issues instead of how they stand on issues such as immigration reform. The microtargeting strategy could change closer to the election if more public emphasis is placed on the Latino vote, McCann says.

“Even though there is more attention on the black and female vote because of the candidates who ran for president this year, the Latino demographic will play a strong role and could be a deciding factor,” McCann says. “And the Latino population’s influence exceeds just those who are able to vote. Even immigrants who cannot vote in U.S. elections contribute to American politics by attending rallies and meetings, talking informally with others about elections, convincing U.S. citizens to vote and contributing funds to parties and other political causes.

“We call this group the emerging electorate. They are part of our cultural fabric, and we should not underestimate their influence and contributions to the American political process,” McCann said.

For example, McCann found in 2006 that 30 percent of those surveyed who were not citizens reported encouraging someone who could vote in an American election to do so.

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