A product of Equis Research.
Spanish and Latino-specific outreach “makes you feel important… It means that our vote really matters because they need it.” — Bilingual Latino, age 29
Last year, we suggested that Spanish-language outreach might have value beyond its most obvious use. We argued that Spanish communications can, in addition to ensuring comprehension for those who speak only Spanish, serve as a form of symbolic communication, invoking Latino identity and culture in a way that resonates with both English-dominants and bilinguals.
Today we are fleshing out that suggestion into a wider framework for engaging Latino audiences in Spanish, bolstered by additional research and analysis.
The full deck is HERE. Some takeaways are below.
Both new and existing research point to the same conclusion: campaigns and organizations that want to move Latino voters should be running more Spanish program and should be targeting Spanish outreach much more broadly than they currently are.
The first reason to do more Spanish is a practical one: those who speak only Spanish (monolingual Spanish speakers) or mostly Spanish (Spanish-dominants) need to be engaged in Spanish if you want them to hear and understand your messaging. But conventional targeting tactics — like Spanish-language TV ads or targeting Spanish browser settings online — aren’t providing full coverage. Broader targeting is necessary for finding those harder-to-reach Spanish-dominants.
Spanish outreach also has, we argue, symbolic value to campaigns: its use can effectively boost perceptions that a candidate or political party “cares about people like you”, prime Latino identity, increase candidate favorability, and boost turnout. This holds among all Latinos, not just the Spanish-dominant.
The traditional reason not to go broad on Spanish is fear that it will backfire by turning off voters who don’t prefer Spanish communication. Yet recent research, including our own, finds no consistent evidence of this kind of backlash from spillover to non-Spanish speakers (including non-Latinos).
Two secondary take-aways emerge in studying the above:
- Bilingual content can seem an attractive best-of-both-worlds option for TV, digital, or mail programs, but it does not perform better than other language approaches and can occasionally produce negative effects. The effectiveness of bilingual communications is highly sensitive to style, quality and target subgroup.
- Latinos’ expectations for Spanish outreach from each of the political parties are not the same. Democrats are expected to engage Latinos and to engage them well. Republicans are not. As such, Democrats and their allies are held to a higher standard in terms of the quality and volume of their Spanish outreach.
Recommendations in Short
If you only remember one thing from this work, let it be this: campaigns and organizations should be running more Spanish program, and they should be targeting Spanish outreach much more broadly than they currently are.
To implement these findings in your program, we recommend embracing a mix of both fully English and fully Spanish creative in your Latino outreach (not to be confused with bilingual content!).
The data we have suggest it would be a mistake to ignore the potential benefits of leaning into the symbolic role of Spanish. So we recommend showing Spanish creative to all Latinos in your programs, in addition to English, to signal care and prime Latino identity.
We are not suggesting that you target all Latinos with only Spanish content. Sharing information in the language people are most comfortable in will always be important. But it could also be costly to neglect Spanish-dominants who are missed in traditional targeting, or to ignore the symbolic role Spanish could play with the even broader set of English-dominants and bilinguals.
While we believe campaigns need a mix of Spanish and English we do not recommend campaigns go out of their way to do both in the same piece of content. If you do choose to make bilingual content, proceed with caution. (In video, text split-screen and English storytelling videos with Spanish captions are the safest options across the board.)
Finally: remember to prioritize demonstrating care. Nothing in this report should suggest that language is the only factor in doing that work. Prioritizing Latino concerns, reflecting shared values, and taking action to improve the lives of Latino voters will always take priority. But language can be a helpful tool in our toolbox as we think through best ways to engage Latino audiences.
To read the full report, and to access all Equis Playbook findings, go to equisplaybook.com
For other Equis resources on messaging, digital, and other topics, check out our 2022 resource library.