Trump and Biden’s ad war is on. They are making an ambitious bid for Latino voters by speaking en su idioma. But how effective are they?
FLORIDA — As the November general elections loom nearer, Donald Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden are making an all-out bid for Latino voters — the largest racial or ethnic group in the 2020 electorate — with a series of Spanish-language ads designed to “speak Latino” while delivering well-honed jabs at the opponent.
Are They Hitting the Mark?
Hoping to increase support from Latino voters from 28% in 2016, the Trump campaign has spent $2.4 million over the last month alone on a series of television, radio, and digital ads that question Biden’s mental fitness for office, as well as in support of Goya Foods after the New Jersey brand was publicly chastised when its CEO praised Trump during a visit to the White House.
The “Latinos for Trump” ads are directed mainly at Cuban Americans, Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans, particularly in battleground state Florida, and go for a stereotypical ethnic a calzón quita’o vibe.
In an ad directed at Mexican Americans titled “Carmen y Araceli,” for example, two women with a marked Mexican accent straight out of central casting express their outrage at how Democrats want to close down Goya Foods, as one yells over loud salsa music: “¡A mí ningún güero me quita mis tacos!” or “No gringo will take away my tacos!” Later in the ad, the women show alarm at the “crazy” Democrats who are “burning the Virgin Mary.” That’s two stereotypes —tacos and religion— in just under 60 seconds.
The ads directed at the Cuban American community in Florida also play on political stereotypes by placing Cuban Americans as a solid Republican block, and sowing fear of the “crazy socialists.” They also compare Democrats to reviled Communist icon Che Guevara. But in fact, according to the Cuban Studies Institute in Florida, Cuban Americans who are Democrats or Independents make up a combined 57% of voters, while Republican Cuban Americans make up 41%.
In the spot aimed at Puerto Ricans in the Sunshine State, a woman uses a very Boricua expression (“¡están al garete!”) to warn that Democrats are “out of control” and Joe Biden is too weak to lead the country. The ad also points out that Goya Foods helped those on the island after the devastation wrought by Hurricane María, while ignoring Trump’s many failures in his administration’s handling of the tragedy.
Aiming for the Heart and the Wallet
The Biden campaign has spent much less than Trump, just over $300,000, for ads aired in the same Florida markets as Trump’s: Tampa, Orlando, and Miami, as well as Arizona. It also announced a strategic investment of $15 million in English-language and Spanish-language ads in six states Trump won: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina.
The tone of Biden’s ads veer away from Trump’s in two key aspects: they don’t make use of stereotypical phrases or “ethnic characterizations,” but instead focus on sentiment. In one, a woman narrates the lonely COVID-19 death of “Yeya,” a beloved neighborhood benefactress, while pointing out the Trump administration’s failure in the handling of the pandemic. In another, Biden gets down to business, as a male voice accuses Trump of telling tall tales, as the bills pile up.
Shrill and over the top or measured and practical, both Trump and Biden’s ads perfectly capture the message and the essence of each candidate. Now it is up to Latinos to decide which speaks to them in their lenguaje.