Election Campaigns and the Political Incorporation of Mexican Immigrants

How do eligible voters become actual voters? Latinos—the nation’s largest and fastest growing minority group—currently comprise about 15 percent of the population, but are only 9 percent of the eligible U.S. electorate. And only a small percentage of eligible voters ever cast a vote in a national election. The gap between Mexican Immigrants’ numbers in the population and their electoral influence is partially explained by the fact that a significant segment of Latinos is not eligible to vote—either because they are not citizens or because they are under 18 years old. But would targeted outreach by major political parties (or by non-partisan sources) make a difference in mobilizing those who are eligible? Do the content and timing of that outreach matter? Political scientist James McCann and Stacey Connaughton (both of Purdue University), and Katsuo Nishikawa (Trinity University, Texas) addressed these questions by administering two controlled campaign mobilization experiments during the 2008 presidential election. The two experiments were embedded within a two-wave panel survey of 1,000 Mexican immigrants.

 

The investigators conducted the first set of interviews in early September 2008, soon after the Democratic and Republican Conventions. The second set of interviews was conducted immediately after the November elections. Respondents were interviewed in either English or Spanish and each survey lasted between 20 and 30 minutes. The sampling, in order to obtain a representative picture of the current Mexican immigrant population, took place in cities close to the United States-Mexican border, and in newer migrant destinations in the Midwest. In experiment one (Study A), 500 randomly selected Mexicans in the first interview were played brief Spanish-language advertisements that the two major political parties prepared for Latino radio stations. This experiment attempted to determine whether exposure to ad campaigns have a short-term impact on the political attitudes, identifications, and judgments measured later in the survey and if the treatment has a long-term effect on the respondents’ political attitudes and behaviors, as measured in the second interview.

 

In experiment two (Study B), another set of 500 randomly selected participants received unsolicited bilingual political mailings at home. These materials appeared, to the respondents, to have been sent by the Democratic and Republican parties. They arrived in October, during the most intensive month of campaigning. Once the results of both experiments are finally assessed, McCann, Connaughton, and Nishikawa will be able to determine if the mailings increased levels of engagement in the election and/or changed beliefs about the parties and candidates, policy issues, and American society in general.

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