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  • Foto del escritorPlaneta Venus

Latino Local News Collaborative: An experience that explored the voting intentions of four Latino communities in three states

Por Mariela Morales | 25 de febrero, 2024

The Latino Vote in the United States
Latinos are inevitably united in the experience of how others perceive them, often characterizing the Latino vote as a single "sleeping giant."

Solutions Journalism Network's Local Media Project has led the creation of several collaborations funded in large part by the Knight Foundation. One of the most recent experiments in collaboration, the Latino Local News Collaborative, initially called Latino Affinity Group, started meeting in July 2023 to address the urgency of exploring the issue of voter engagement among Latino communities across the United States.  

Since then, the Latino newsrooms, based in Illinois, Kansas, and Pennsylvania, have been meeting online twice monthly. Their first task was to collectively design a survey to measure interest in voting among and, generally, to know and measure attitudes toward national politics.

The group designed the survey with the agreement that each local and hyper-local media outlet could include questions and varied groups of Latinos as respondents, such as first or second generation, immigrants, citizens or non-citizens. Thus, each outlet’s individual report shares findings with the rest of the group and includes information specific to its community’s informational needs.

Each local media used different mechanisms to survey. Some took advantage of local cultural events, others distributed it online, others conducted focus groups, and others did more than one activity combining different methods.

What was valuable about the survey was not only the results but also the nature of the research group. Being local and hyperlocal media, these outlets embrace a closer and more open relationship with the communities that they serve. In other words, these media outlets are part of their community of readers and listeners, which, from the outset, created a different level of trust with the survey respondents.

The Latino Local News Collaborative is made up of Claudia Amaro, Planeta Venus (Wichita, KS), Jennie Dallas, La Voz Latina Central (Central PA, Edgar Ramirez, Philatinos Radio (Philadelphia, PA), and Jesus del Toro La Raza (Chicago, IL),  along with Emma Restrepo and Julian Carreno, 2PuntosPlatform (Philadelphia, PA as coordination support. The group was supported by  Liza Gross and Alex Frost of the Solutions Journalism Network. 

Some of these local and hyper-local media met before being part of this experience; others had not. However, the conversation rapidly became safe and open, sometimes in Spanish, other times in English. What the members of this collaborative shared during  meetings is included in this report.

One of the unexpected results of this experience was that some of the survey respondents expressed interest in continuing to meet to delve deeper into the topic. Planeta Venus created a contact directory of respondents, and Philatinos Radio will offer a series of workshops to inform the second generation, especially about how to navigate this country's political system.

In the future, the collaboration seeks to expand with Latino media participants from other states, especially where Latinos count as a minority, among minorities.

Below is an analysis of the consolidation of the four media outlets’ reports made with the help of Mariela Morales, a doctoral candidate in Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Possible answers to the motivations and obstacles in the participation of Latino voters   

What has been dubbed the "Latino Vote" continues to puzzle political operatives, pundits, and election officials. Still, the issue has gathered newly found attention since the 2020 presidential election when assumptions that Latinos in the United States vote as a monolithic ethno-racial group crumbled in front of everyone's eyes. Yet, it is no surprise to Latinos themselves that the community is not a homogeneous ethnic group. Scholars of diaspora and regional studies have documented for decades how Latinidad has been constructed in the United States in ways that overemphasize language commonalities, and essentialize ethnic variation. However, this is not to say that there are no commonalities among Latin Americans and their descendants in the U.S. Latinos share a continental history and diasporic identity that unites them. They are also inevitably united in the experience of how others perceive them, often characterizing the Latino vote as a single "sleeping giant."

With this context in mind, the above-mentioned consortium of hyperlocal and local Latino news outlets surveyed their communities and readers' engagement and participation in elections in the fall of 2023. The initiative adds to an existing body of literature that seeks to understand what motivates and hinders Latino/a/e/x voter participation in elections. A block of voters that continues to grow in relevance as they are increasingly shaping the United States' national demographics. The questionnaire was administered and available in Spanish and English at in-person events hosted by the media outlets and online during September and October 2023. The outlets collected responses from more than 130 readers who completed a brief questionnaire. Across all news outlets, we can see overlapping and diverging findings. The following summary groups the main findings and briefly discusses why some of the results coincide across outlets while, in other cases, they vary. 

Latinos want to vote but struggle to find substantive information about issues in Spanish

Information about Latino vote
Graphic from Philatinos' survey

While some respondents mentioned they usually don't vote in local or general elections, most respondents said they believed that voting is essential. For example, 83.9% of people surveyed by Philatinos Radio say that they are committed to informing themselves about political issues, while 88.5% of those surveyed by La Raza in Chicago said that it was important for them to be civically active. However, motivated and unmotivated voters alike said they feel invisible to local, state, and federal politicians and have difficulties piercing through issues. Readers said that they sometimes feel overwhelmed when navigating voter registration, finding time to vote during an election day, and understanding ballot measures. 

Philatinos Radio shared during the collaborative’s meetings that a common perception captured during a focus group it held was that the government hides information and only discloses what is convenient, in addition to the general feeling that their voices will not be heard. A common complaint from respondents was there needed to be more voting resources available in Spanish, or they needed to be made aware of them. When asked about their preferred method of being contacted, most say they prefer to be reached via phone while emphasizing that they would welcome door-to-door canvassing or in-person outreach. Most respondents had never been directly canvassed by either party during elections. In addition, the lack of clear resources in Spanish about the voting process led, for at least one person who participated in the study, to voter suppression, as they mentioned that they had not voted in a past election simply because someone told them they could not.

In addition, La Raza shared during the meetings that the Latinos participating in their Chicago study overwhelmingly expressed that they prefer stories about elections and candidates that focus on solutions to problems and include the voices of individuals and civic organizations rather than articles that repeat the candidates' main talking points. 

Latinos are invested in local politics and issues that impact family life

The narratives of the sleeping giant have usually been deployed to describe a Latino voter turnout in presidential elections. Yet, three out of the four outlets reported a majority of survey participants saying they are highly motivated to vote by local issues and the local economy. This might lead us to believe that the readers surveyed are more mobilized by local issues and elections than by federal ones. Matters pertaining to family life, such as school board representation, were marked as high priority. Family life is also influential in political decisions. Parents who cannot vote but have children who can respond usually see their children's participation in the political process as something that benefits the whole family. These families noted that they encouraged their kids to go out and vote. 

Not voting is not an option

Planeta Venus el voto Latino
Graphic from Planeta Venus' survey

Overall, survey respondents mentioned that they saw value in voting, even when they felt disconnected from major parties and some discussions on a federal level. More than 90% of surveyed readers from Planeta Venus have voted at least once in an election, and 94% of La Voz Latina Central respondents are planning to vote in the upcoming elections of 2024. In addition, state and local matters are more known to the people who took the survey, who responded that local issues are of higher interest to them. For example, self-reporting of voting participation in local and state elections was above 50% in most surveys administered. 

Because all of the outlets conducting this research are hyperlocal news outlets, most likely, their readership and audiences are already invested in local issues within their community. However, the findings overlap with broader studies on political topics that resonate within the Latino community.

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