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What Does It Take To Woo Connecticut's Latino Voters?


October 22, 2012

Every election season, political campaigns turn to the Latino vote to get the candidate of their choice over the finish line in tight races this time in Connecticut, it's the U.S. Senate and the 5th District congressional races. Some candidates pull out the old, tired outreach efforts from their campaign toolbox and then later join the chorus chanting Latinos don't vote blaming the victim.

Candidates should instead examine the often misguided and uninformed attempts to reach Latino voters. The problem is Connecticut's 500,000 Latinos are the most diverse ethnic group to have ever settled in our state.

The 2010 U.S. Census provides a snapshot of the Connecticut Latino. Seventy-five percent were born in the U.S., not in another country. Half of the state's 500,000 Latinos are gainfully employed in IT and financial services, in private and public sector jobs, and in the trades. English is spoken in more than 70 percent of Latino homes, and although the largest numbers do live in urban centers, a significant number live in suburbs and are engaged in civic matters.

In West Hartford for example, almost 10 percent of the population is Latino. In Manchester it's 15 percent and in East Hartford it's more than 25 percent. Even in Norwalk and Stamford not typical Latino strongholds Latinos make up almost one-fourth of the population.

Unlike earlier immigrant groups, which assimilated by replacing their original culture with their new culture, experts will tell you Latinos have acculturated. They accept the new culture but keep their original home culture, which means they identify strongly as Latinos.

Unless political candidates acquaint themselves with the demographics to better know Latinos, their basic premise on how to identify and court this group is flawed. Candidates still assume most Latinos don't speak English, will vote Democratic and live in urban centers. Political campaigns would not treat female voters this way. Time, money and effort is invested to understand what motivates a soccer mom vs. a female business owner. The same must be done to earn a Latino vote.

Politicians, however, continue to rely on what Latino pundits call mariachi politics. These are stereotypical efforts to woo Latino votes. California GOP Senate nominee Carly Fiorina recently took mariachi politics to a new level by downing a shot of tequila before taking the stage.

Connecticut has its own mariachi politics. In the 5th Congressional District race, GOP candidate Andrew Roraback gets points for trying to reach a segment of Latino voters. But he is running a Spanish language radio ad in which he speaks in the Spanish he learned in high school, making it quite painful for any listener. But then, the Democratic candidate, Elizabeth Esty has not bothered to run even the usual Spanish language radio ads, perhaps assuming Latinos will vote for her because of her party. I'm not sure which is worse.

In the U.S. Senate race, Democrat Chris Murphy has had his mariachi politics moments: visiting local Latino urban enclaves, visiting festivals and advertising only in Spanish, although mercifully not trying to speak in Spanish. On the other hand, his opponent, Republican Linda McMahon, who perhaps can afford better consultants, is using the same outreach tools but is also advertising to Latinos in English and holding chats in their homes, in Wallingford, Glastonbury and West Hartford.

Latino voters, like other mainstream voters, worry about the economy, but also notice such telling facts as the dismal hiring records of Latinos by the state's congressional delegation. And like other voters, Latinos are frustrated by the posturing of both parties and are abandoning the party system. Close to half or 71,488 of the 176,000 Latino voters listed by the Secretary of the State's office are unaffiliated. This list is another example of how challenging clearly identifying the Latino vote can be. The list is incomplete because it relies on surnames, which, when you have Latinos with names such as Beauchamp, Betancourt and Oyandel, can be deceiving. The exact number of Latino voters is not really known.

Which means, to win over any Latino voter, just like any other voter; there is no one size fits all. It takes research, common sense and most important, a sincere, not superficial effort.

Diane Alverio is publisher of ctlatinonews.com, an English language online news site, and principal of D. Alverio & Co., a public relations and marketing firm in Hartford.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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