"Misengaged, Not Disengaged: How Campaigns Reach Latino Voters with Economic Messaging"
Given partisan polarization on immigration, Latino voters have been assumed to trend Democratic in their overall vote choice. However, there remains anywhere from a quarter to a third of Latino voters who consistently support Republicans - including those who use inflammatory rhetoric about immigrants, like Donald Trump. Furthermore, Latino independents remain one of the lowest participating groups in American elections. The continued nonpartisan status of Latino independents suggests that further immigration messaging is unlikely to persuade them. Instead, issue polls consistently show that economic issues, such as jobs, taxes, and inflation, and social service spending, such as healthcare and education, are the most important to Latinos overall. In my dissertation, I explore the potential for these economic and social service messages to persuade and engage Latino voters.
I argue that campaign rhetoric on economics and social services could potentially appeal to Latinos because they have been relatively underexposed to such messaging. I analyzed television advertisements collected by CMAG/Kantar Media and stored through the Wisconsin Advertising Project and the Wesleyan Media Project. These datasets include the vast majority of televised ads from political campaigns. In my analyses, I focus on national elections: presidential and congressional campaigns.
I find that Democratic campaigns tend to emphasize immigration in their Spanish-language messaging (compared to English), and to relatively neglect economic and social service messaging. Republican ads in Spanish, meanwhile, focused on a variety of other topics—including economics and even social services and pro-immigrant stances. While Democrats retained a massive 5-to-1 advantage in terms of Spanish-language ad volume, Republicans used a wider range of topics in their Spanish-language advertising.
Past Trends in Partisan Messaging on Economics and Immigration
Campaign Advertising in 2016 (President, House, Senate)
N = 1,391,062
N = 58,490
N = 11,681
N = 1,212,122
Note: This figure uses data from the 2016 CMAG/Wesleyan Media Project database. Bars indicate the percentage of ads that mentioned the given issue topic, out of the entire population of ads. Issue mentions are recorded using existing CMAG codes and originally coded datasets; each individual ad can potentially have multiple issues mentioned. These include both primary and general elections. This data includes 2,682,941 total recorded ad airings (70,171 in Spanish) and 4,292 unique ads (217 where 50% or more is Spanish-language). For more details on this data, see https://mediaproject.wesleyan.edu/
Job Market Paper
"Not Just Ethnic Voters: The Effect of Economic and Immigration Appeals on Latinos"
I ran two online survey experiments with large samples of Latino Democrats, Republicans, and independents where I exposed respondents to various economic and immigration messages from either party. Latino Democrats and Republicans were consistently positive towards in-party candidates regardless of whether immigration is mentioned. When considering out-party and independent evaluations, however, undocumented immigration was more polarizing than persuasive. Instead, economic messaging had more positive persuasive effects, especially among independents. Thus, while Latino partisans align with the views of their respective parties, including on immigration, Latino independents likely remain amenable to economic messages from both parties.
Study 1: Message Effects by Party ID
Note: This figure shows how respondents to one of the four messaging treatments (control, pro-undocumented, progressive economic, and race-class economic) then differed in their outcome, which was their hypothetical desire to vote for the Democratic candidate (1 = Very Unlikely, 5 = Very likely). Confidence intervals are calculated for p < 0.05. My sample included Latino registered voters (self-reported) - 150 Democrats and 140 independents - and treatment assignment was block-randomized separately for Democratic and independent respondents, so there are on average 33 respondents in each partisan subgroup/treatment condition pairing above.
"Who's Targeting Latinos? How Democrats and Republicans Use Latino Identity Cues in Televised Campaign Ads from 2000-2016"
Co-authored with Ali Valenzuela and Chris Flores
With Ali Valenzuela (American University), I helped design a coding scheme and worked with a team of RA’s to identify Latino identity cues in CMAG TV ad data from 2000-2016. In areas with more Latinos, both parties have over time increased their usage of symbolic cues such as Spanish messaging and Latino characters. However, on immigration, they have diverged significantly—Democrats almost entirely use pro-immigrant messaging in Spanish towards majority-Latino areas, while Republicans use anti-immigrant messaging in English towards areas with few Latinos. While both parties will likely continue to seek Latino votes through non-immigration Latino identity cues, they have polarized deeply on immigration.
"How the Young Lords Articulated a Radical Latino Panethnic Identity"
The Young Lords were a radical Puerto Rican group who were active in New York and Chicago during the 1960s/70s. By articulating an anti-establishment Latino political consciousness, they often conflicted with other panethnic groups seeking recognition from the US government, businesses, and media. I examine how they tied community-based engagement and self-sufficiency with progressive politics on topics like race, gender, sexuality, and class. While the organization itself fell to factionalism, they provide an important alternative conception of Latino panethnicity that diverges from the incorporation-oriented panethnic identity that eventually became dominant.
Works in Progress
"The Racist Card: Denial of Racism as a Conservative Counter-Strategy"
Co-authored with Rachel Brown-Weinstock
After decades of keeping their racial language implicit, what has allowed Republican candidates like Donald Trump to use explicitly racial language with apparent impunity? It is possible that Republican candidates have effectively weaponized the "racist" label and persuaded many voters that Democratic racial callouts are disingenuous. As a result, many conservative voters simultaneously support candidates using (at face value) racially conservative rhetoric while denying that such rhetoric is genuinely racist. We test this argument using a survey experiment exposing respondents to this conservative counterstrategy. We assert that the theory of implicit-explicit racialized political appeals is still valid, but that a central leg of the theory—self monitoring—is not operating among white conservatives. This is because, in part due to Republican messaging, conservatives believe that ostensibly “explicit” racism is not racist, meaning that such rhetoric remains "implicit" within the IE model framework. This argument relates to broader theories of the “long Southern strategy” and colorblind racism to understand how national Republican candidates are able to effectively neutralize claims of racial bias, even when they use language directly implicating racial minorities. Future studies of racialized political appeals must be grounded in the actual experiences and values of conservatives, who (genuinely or not) reject the application of the “racist” label.
Pro-Immigrant, Pro-Latino, or Pro-Democrat? A Conjoint Test of Latino Voter Evaluations
In 2019, I ran an online conjoint survey experiment testing how Latino voters evaluate candidates based on their ethnicity, partisanship, and policy positions on immigration and abortion restrictions. I found a slight favor towards Latino candidates, but the strongest effects were driven by partisanship and policy. Furthermore, these were highly sorted by partisanship, such that Latino Democrats supported Democrats and candidates who were pro-undocumented and pro-choice, while Latino Republicans supported Republicans and candidates who were anti-undocumented and pro-life. Latino independents, meanwhile, did not exhibit effects from a candidate's message or partisanship. I argue that Latino partisans are sorted on both immigration and abortion while independents are less likely to respond to political messaging on such issues.