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Latinos And The Online Campaign: Where Are They?

Jose Luis Jimenez, the social media editor for Fronteras Desk, talks to KPBS about Latinos and the online campaign.

How do you reach a Latino voter? Identify the social media platforms or websites they go to. And it doesn't hurt to get an audience with a popular blogger.

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Check out the Fronteras Vote 2012 Election Special & other stories about the fall campaign.

— It’s conventional wisdom that Latinos will play a key role in the November elections, especially in the West. Democrats and Republicans are investing millions of dollars to get their message in front of these voters, especially through the Internet and social media.

How do you reach a Latino voter? Find where they are gathering online.

Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama have posted Spanish-language videos on websites, which are constantly updated with new content. That is bolstered with robust operations on the popular social media platforms of Twitter and Facebook.

The race for the White House is already on overdrive in cyber space.

Campaigns understand the changing demographics in America. And technology has given them a new, high-tech tools to reach these voters.

David Karpf is a professor of political science at Rutgers University. He has just finished a book called The MoveOn Effect: The Unexpected Transformation of American Political Advocacy.

He notes that campaigns can now target online groups with tailored messages as opposed to blasting an entire region with one ad.

“My guess is with regards to Hispanic voters in this election, there will probably be at least one campaign that tries to identify social media sites or websites that Hispanic Americans tend to go to,” Karpf said. “And they’ll either buy advertising on those sites or they’ll buy targeted advertising for people who visit those sites. And that will be a way to reach them with your message in a way that they couldn’t before.”

The lower costs of Internet operations also gives campaigns the flexibility to try different messages and quickly change strategy if it falls flat. 

“You can test out how one social media tool works versus another, in terms of how voters respond after they heard one message versus the other,” Karpf said.

Ana Castro is one of the founding members of LATISM, an acronym for Latinos In Social Media. The group's focus is to use online platforms to get Latinos to act.

“Our goal is to bring all the online engagement and turn them into concrete, offline, real actions that change lives,” Castro said.

Both political parties have invited bloggers from this online community to attend the conventions. The nonpartisan group plans to take it one step further by renting a home in each city near the site of the conventions.

The aim is to invite candidates and party insiders to the home for a chat with bloggers from all sides of the political spectrum.

By sitting down and talking to a Latino blogger — who will then share it with their audience — a politician can have their message shared as a more intimate conversation rather than a blast from a megaphone.

“If you want an audience, just get on the agenda and we’ll make sure that you’re given a platform,” Castro said.

She believes Latinos are more likely to listen to a message from a trusted blogger or a friend than from an Internet ad or a note blasted on Twitter.

The goal of campaigning on the Internet and social media is to get people to perform an offline activity: vote.

The truth is, no one knows if that will happen.

Despite the focus on cyberspace, its impact on elections is murky at best. Political scientists have noted the increased use of online messages in recent campaigns, and have found that it tends to reach younger voters who are paying attention.

But researchers have yet to find a direct link between viewing an online ad or reading a blog post and entering the voting booth, or switching parties.

Professor Karpf, who is moving to George Washington University, explains.

“Will this affect the outcome of the election? There is so much different activity going on, there’s so many different things happening at once, that, even today, it still remains pretty much impossible to tell how big of an impact it is having,” Karpf said.

Now that campaigns are squarely focused on using social media and the Internet to reach key groups, researchers are now expected to study its impact. They may have some answers by the next presidential campaign.

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