Sunday’s Spanish-language Democratic presidential debate is a coming-of-age that underscores a new political reality: Spanish broadcast news has persuasive power, it differs markedly from English-language programs, and thanks to the immigration debate, it has hurt Republicans.
“It’s utterly different. Utterly and completely different,” said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Project. “Same day, same markets, totally different news. Utterly different priorities, different images, different geographic focus.”
Although Spanish-language press is not monolithic, news coverage, and particularly political coverage, tends to focus on advocacy for its community, analysts said.
It’s new territory that Democrats have been quick to grasp, deploying Spanish-speaking lawmakers to make the party’s case on education, national defense and, most recently, immigration.
Fernando J. Guerra, a professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles who studies the Hispanic electorate, said that means Spanish-language voters got a steady diet of news that reflected poorly on Republicans. That, in turn, helped Democrats.
“You can see it in that, during that time, those immigrants who become naturalized citizens who then register to vote, register at a much higher percentage for Democrats,” he said.
Democratic candidates have a chance to criticize Republicans again in a debate to be broadcast on Univision at 7 p.m. It promises to be an unwieldy affair, given that candidates are required to answer in English with their answers translated — an effort to even the footing because candidates Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson are fluent in Spanish.
Spanish-language appearances are likely to become a fixture for future campaigns.
Univision is the country’s fifth-largest broadcast network, and its local newscasts are now tops in 16 cities, including Los Angeles, Phoenix and Miami, according to NDN, a Democratic advocacy group. And while broadcast networks lose their audience, the Spanish-language market is growing, particularly in political coverage.
Telemundo, another major Spanish-language network, is expected to announce today that it aims to schedule its own Democratic debate for October, said Mr. Gonzalez, whose group is a co-sponsor. And Univision this weekend begins a new national Sunday political talk show.
Univision also invited Republican candidates to a debate, but so far only Arizona Sen. John McCain has announced his intention to participate — something most analysts say will only further damage Republicans.
Those involved with Spanish-language broadcasts say it’s a powerful medium for Hispanic voters.
“The electorate, when they hear it in their native language, it’s more impactful,” said Frank Guerra, a Hispanic marketing analyst who worked on the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. He said the reach extends beyond just immigrant Spanish speakers to include second- and third-generation Hispanics who “are looking to go back and recapture their culture.”
He said divergent views exist among Hispanic voters on immigration, but the tone is what hurts Republicans.
“Hispanics are not monolithic. They really are divided on every issue,” he said. “The danger the Republicans run is that for the Hispanics who agree with their position, the tone of the debate may turn them off.”