With the negative ads flying in this year's political campaigns, many voters may be struggling to separate fact from fiction. But some Hispanic-Americans would rather hear a few tall tales than, some critics say, be taken for granted.
Both Democrats and Republicans say they've made the Hispanic vote a priority. But less than 5 percent of all political TV ad money goes to Spanish-language media, according to a study released Monday by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
It's a matter of respect for some Hispanic leaders, who see the lack of funding as a dismissal of the fastest-growing voting bloc, and one that is expected to play a critical role in November. The campaigns are excluding millions of voters from the political conversation, said Javier Palomarez, president of the Hispanic chamber.
"Like all Americans, Hispanics are perfectly capable of judging negative advertising for what it is," Palomarez said. "What matters is that campaigns prioritize Hispanic voters in a manner that is equivalent to their ever-increasing electoral significance."
Many Latinos are watching English-language broadcasts and the campaigns should take that into account, but they also should not ignore Spanish-language media, said Arturo Vargas, executive director of National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
Voters who watch Spanish-language channels are more likely to be naturalized citizens. And naturalized citizens tend to vote in higher percentages than native-born Latinos, who are more likely to take the right to vote for granted, Vargas said.
Some 12 million Hispanics are expected to vote in this year's election. Their vote is seen as critical in swing states with large Hispanic populations, such as Nevada, Florida and Colorado. Voter turnout is at the forefront of both President Barack Obama's and GOP nominee Mitt Romney's efforts to mobilize the Hispanic community.
Just $16 million of the approximately $360 million spent on all campaign television advertising since April has been used in Spanish-language markets through Sept. 25, according to the chamber study, which has been tracking TV ad spending. The study tracked advertising spending in 10 states: Florida, Colorado, Virginia, Nevada, Arizona, California, Illinois, New Mexico, New York and Texas.
In Florida, Hispanics make up about 16 percent of registered voters, yet Spanish-language ads accounted for just 7 percent of the $107 million spent on all political advertising in the state. Miami, one of the nation's largest Hispanic markets, does better. Candidates and supporters spend about 31 percent of their ad dollars on Spanish-language media trying to woo the largely Cuban, Puerto Rican and Colombian electorate.
Democrats spent nearly twice as much as Republicans on Spanish-language ads in Florida, Colorado and Texas. Of the 10 states studied, Republicans outspent Democrats only in New York and spent the same amount, which was nothing, in Illinois and Virginia. The advertising markets studied in Virginia did not include the Washington metro area.
The gap in political spending is particularly stark in California, where less than 3 percent of spending is on Spanish-language ads despite Latinos making up nearly 20 percent of registered voters, and in Texas, where less than 6 percent of spending is on Spanish-language ads despite Latinos making up 23 percent of registered voters. Neither state is considered competitive in the presidential contest.
"Television advertising is reality," said Ken Goldstein, president of Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, which conducted the study. "Campaigns can say they have a bunch of money, but if they're not advertising then they don't have a bunch of money. Campaigns can say a state is competitive, but if they're not advertising there, the state is not competitive. Campaigns can say they want to talk about a particular message, but if they're not doing it in their paid advertising, they're not serious."
In the presidential race, $10 million was spent on Spanish-language TV ads and $158 million spent on English-language ads. Democrats spent more than twice as much as Republicans on Spanish-language ads. The numbers include spending both by parties and so-called "super PACs."
Romney released his latest Spanish-language ad, titled "Nuestra Comunidad," last week featuring the former Massachusetts governor clasping hands with Hispanic supporters and posing for photos with Hispanic children. Republican Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno, who narrates the video, pledges that Romney can "revive the American dream" for Latino families.
The Romney campaign plans to "spend more on Spanish-language advertising" than either John McCain or George W. Bush did in their 2008 and 2000 and 2004 presidential races, according to Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. The Obama campaign said its Hispanic outreach efforts are more about substance than spending and boasted the campaign has been running Spanish-language radio and TV ads since April. The campaign uses many forms of digital communication.
"Throughout the campaign, we have used all the tools at our disposal, from innovative advertising to grassroots organizing in the Latino community to promote the president's record," said Obama spokeswoman Gabriela Domenzain.
Some observers question whether the lack of advertising in Spanish-language markets is because of trends that show more Hispanics tuning in to English-language TV.
Univision and ABC announced this spring that they would partner to build the nation's first English-language news and information channel for U.S. Hispanics. Based in Miami, the 24-hour channel is expected to begin airing next year.
But Palomarez called it a "gross miscalculation" by any campaign to spend 96 percent of its advertising on English-language markets. He noted that top shows on Univision often rival the viewership on major English-language networks.
"The numbers speak for themselves," he said.
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