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Gabriel Sanchez Zinny

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Why Don't Politicians Get It With Hispanics?

Posted: 04/18/2012 7:45 am

It looks like both Republicans and Democrats are missing the target when they talk to Hispanics. Or should we call them Latinos, or something else? More on this in a minute.

The latest Pew Hispanic Center survey among 1,220 cases of Latino adults, carried out from November to December 2011, sheds some light on many of the clichés about Latinos.

It is official now: we prefer not to call ourselves Latinos or Hispanics. According to the report, a majority of us, 51 percent, identify with our country of origin while only 24 percent prefer a generic term. If this is the case, why don't politicians and strategists understand this?

Another assumption about Latinos that became a cliché is that Latinos should be conservative, but don't know it, because they are family-oriented, appreciate hard work, and attend church. However, the reality is always more complex than market segmentation.

Yes, Latinos believe in hard work, and travel to America to find opportunities they otherwise would not have in their countries. Pew found that 75 percent think that working hard is the way to move up in the social ladder, 17 points more than what the average American believes. This doesn't define Latinos' political affiliation though, and neither does their religion or family values.

Religion still plays an important part in the Latino community. According to Pew, "69 percent of Latino immigrants say religion is very important in their lives." But, this sentiment has decreased the longer they have stayed in America, transferring this attitude to the next generation. Among U.S.-born Hispanics, only 49 percent share that feeling.

Another stereotype in political campaigns has to do with language--something we are starting to see again this year. Politicians try to speak in Spanish, record TV and radio advertisements in Spanish, and think we will react more favorably if we are approached by our parents' language. Although Latino immigrants' English skills are typically not as strong as those of U.S.-born Latinos, 87 percent of Latinos agree and believe that it's important to learn English to succeed in the U.S. They also believe that speaking Spanish is very important for future generations. Although, in this global world where speaking two languages is always a competitive advantage in a professional career, who doesn't?

Latinos might like to use Spanish when we watch television or other means of entertainment, but not when we want to participate in politics, or want to be seen as equal Americans by our future elected representatives. Many Latinos find this pejorative more than welcoming.

Clearly the Latino population is more complex than political strategists and pollsters describe. Latinos strongly support America and 79 percent said they would immigrate again if they had to. However, they don't want to be treated as a monolithic group. They have conservative views about family and religion, but have liberal feelings about being mistreated and discriminated against. Their political beliefs are also influenced by a love-hate relationship with a United States whose geopolitical relationships with their native countries have varied over the years. Perhaps even more challenging for Latinos' to overcome is the level of trust in government, possibly the most important factor that unites U.S. society. Indeed, Latinos trust the government less than the average American. This could also stem from attitudes in origin countries, where it is uncommon to trust the government because it was often corrupt, run by elites, and rarely delivered on campaign promises.

Not even immigration, as the cliché goes, is the priority among Latinos. Latinos are more concerned about employment, their own income levels, and their children's education, like everyone else in the U.S. In January a Univisión/Latino Decisions poll shows that 65 percent of registered Latino voters considered jobs and the economy as their most pressing concerns. Only 23 percent named immigration as their top priority.

The Pew report demonstrates the misreading of Latinos by many politicians. Calling all of them Latinos, talking to them in Spanish, and focusing only on immigration issues will probably not be the best way to secure their support. When will politicians learn this?

 
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