May 14, 2024 - World

Spanglish is increasingly being used to reach Latino voters

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Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Spanglish — a mix of English and Spanish — is slowly surging in political ads and campaign outreach ahead of November's elections.

Why it matters: Communicating in Spanish is key to wooing Latino voters, who are nearly 15% of the electorate and who could swing critical races in battleground states.

  • But, increasingly, so is using Spanglish, especially since many young Latinos — a rapidly growing demographic — are more likely to be English-dominant.

Zoom in: During the lead-up to the 2020 presidential contest, the Biden campaign did at least one Spanglish ad and several other Spanish-language ones. This year so far, it's released two in Spanglish, with plans for more.

  • The Biden campaign has spent millions on ads and on deploying staff to reach Latino voters for this campaign, according to spokesperson Fabiola Rodriguez.
  • The Democratic National Committee also says it's made a "six-figure" investment in digital, print and radio ads targeting Latinos while paying for more than 30 Spanish-language billboards in key battleground states.

The Trump campaign also released Spanish ads in 2020 but has yet to spend any cash on them so far this cycle.

  • Instead, the campaign is reaching Latino voters organically and through surrogates such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), says Danielle Alvarez, a Trump campaign spokesperson, adding that Trump has done major interviews with Spanish-language TV stations.

By the numbers: Roughly 63% of Latinos say they speak Spanglish — and the share of Latinos who speak Spanish at home has dropped over the past decade, according to the Pew Research Center.

What they're saying: "Second-generation Latinos in the U.S., at home, while their parents and grandparents are speaking in Spanish, they're speaking in English back to them," says Rodriguez.

  • "We're embracing the fact that our community is evolving and they're not just speaking Spanish, they're speaking a combination of it."
  • Alvarez, of the Trump campaign, says voters like herself who toggle between both languages are "a generation of folks who are trying to buy their first house, trying to save money, trying to make good decisions for their future."
  • But under Biden, those things are "much harder," Alvarez says, adding that's why Trump appeals to Latino voters.

Yes, but: Launching Spanglish ads is "a more volatile choice" because if not well done, they can easily come off as parody, says Carlos Odio, co-founder and senior vice president for research at Equis Labs.

  • "I think when people are saying that we should do more Spanglish, I think they're just saying we need more ads that speak culturally to the audience, that understand that the audience wants to feel included," Odio says.

While there's been a notable increase in Spanish-language outreach in the past few years, it's "important to highlight that the Latino community is the community that receives the least funding on anything related to civic participation and democracy," says Héctor Sánchez Barba, president of Mi Familia Vota.

  • "When it comes to a Spanish outreach, the numbers are really embarrassing."

The big picture: While Democrats still have a strong edge with Latino voters, the GOP has been making inroads.

  • Sandra Benitez, executive director of the center-right organization Libre Initiative, says consistent outreach is key for the GOP to continue to win over Latinos.
  • "Over the last several campaign cycles, we have seen dividends when we are intentional with Spanish language, " Benitez says.

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