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Latinos And The Online Campaign

To reach a likely Latino voter this election season, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney may have to reach them online.

Because more and more Latinos are going online, campaigns are increasingly turning to the Internet to cultivate this group of voters and to get more of them to participate in elections.

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— Once again, Latinos are being touted as a key voting bloc this November. And some experts say the best way to reach them may be online.

A recent study found Latinos — especially younger ones — use cell phones more than whites and blacks. Increasingly, they are also using smart phones to access the Internet and to communicate.

Yesiga (Jessica) Lopez fits this demographic profile. The UC San Diego graduate recently helped organize and took part in a series of protests in May and June in San Diego County.

Janitors were fighting for health care coverage in their next labor contract. Like any good 21st century protest, their efforts included cyberspace. Lopez said the janitors and their gatherings were buzzing around San Diego social media circles for several months.

Lopez is also active on the popular social media platforms of Facebook and Twitter.

“The best compliment that you can have on Twitter is a retweet,” she said. “That brings joy to my heart in a funny, I guess, new age way.”

Lopez regularly reads political news, mostly online. She has even worked on a campaign.

The San Diego resident is what political scientists call “engaged.” And is the type of voter that President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney or any other politician needs to target if they want a sizable chunk of the Latino vote.

Political science professor Matt Barreto reached that conclusion after studying voting patterns among ethnic groups during the 2008 election. The University of Washington academic was part of a team that found online campaign messages reach people like Lopez: young, interested in politics and spending time online.

“If they do connect with them and if they can make a political connection through the Internet, regardless of the source,” Barreto said. “That political connection is real and is just as important and valuable as a telephone call, a knock on your door or a piece of mail you get in your old fashioned mailbox.”

The professor continued: “And so, because there is a large presence of Latinos online, I think that there is an opportunity there for the campaigns to cultivate that and to work with that and to get more Latinos participating.”

But getting Latinos to pay attention to campaigns online is not enough. The message has to spur them to act, offline. It has to inspire them to attend a rally, or knock on doors in their neighborhood.

And, of course, vote.

“When we specifically focused on people who told us in a survey that they were going on candidate websites that they were signing up for candidate Facebooks, that they were using Twitter, blogs, even just email communication to talk about politics, those people were translating that into real politics and so we saw a real strong connection there,” Barreto said.

Lopez said she is already seeing campaign messages online that seem aimed at her. She welcomes it and says other Latinos should too.

“So, now, that we are highlighted, that people care about the Latino vote, it’s actually time to enjoy the spotlight,” Lopez said. “Let’s take advantage of that and let’s post our thoughts.”

She recently retweeted a message about the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act. It said, in part: “No one should go bankrupt because they get sick.”

San Diego Janitor's March

Janitors march in downtown San Diego on May 1st. They were asking for health care coverage in their next labor contract.


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