The Spanish-language news media in the U.S. has been covering the 2012 Republican presidential primaries with greater breadth than ever before, as both the media outlets and the GOP hopefuls realize the importance of the Hispanic vote to any candidate who wants to defeat Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama in an election that by many accounts could be up for grabs come November.
So important do the candidates believe the Hispanic news media to be, they are not only making regular appearances on Hispanic news shows but are also giving exclusive interviews in some instances to the Hispanic networks and news organizations before they speak with their English-language news counterparts.
“The Republican Party has a big challenge in the presidential election,” says Isaac Lee, president of news for Univision. “The eventual Republican candidate will need at least 35 percent of the Latino vote to win the general election, and right now they are not close to that percentage, according to recent polls.”
Lee adds: “The Republican candidates are going to have to find ways to reach Hispanic voters with their messages. But President Obama also has work to do if he wants to keep the level of Hispanic votes that he had when he was elected in 2008.”
Alina Falcon, president of news and alternative programming for Telemundo, says what makes the Hispanic vote even more important is that much of the Hispanic population is located in states with high numbers of electoral votes, including Florida, Texas, California, Arizona and New York.
“They all recognize that the Hispanic vote is vital to them,” Falcon says. “Just look at the past several presidential elections. George W. Bush was able to attract a significant percentage of Hispanic voters, and he was elected twice. John McCain in 2008 could not attract a similar percentage as Bush and he lost. The Hispanic vote makes a difference. And right now, the Hispanic vote is up for grabs.”
In the 2008 general election, Obama garnered 67% of the Hispanic vote in defeating McCain. At this early stage, the Obama campaign already has spinmeisters like Gabriela Domenzain, the re-election team’s director of Hispanic press, trying to paint the Republican candidates as antiimmigrant and trying to get the Hispanic media to publicize their polling which shows Obama significantly ahead of any Republican rival among Hispanic voters.
All three of the major Hispanic news operations are linked to Englishlanguage partners. In addition to CNN’s CNN en Espanol, Telemundo is owned by NBCUniversal, while Univision has forged a partnership with ABC News in covering the campaign (it was recently reported that the two networks are talking about starting an English-language cable news network with a Hispanic focus).
While CNN and NBCUniversal are incorporating their Spanishlanguage outlets more than ever this cycle, the Hispanic trio is on top of its game in this presidential election race even without their Englishlanguage partners. And they are getting just as much attention with their coverage as the English-language press. The big three in Hispanic TV news coverage have all had their share of private sit-downs and exclusive interviews with the Republican presidential candidates and with President Obama. And they have some of the most experienced and respected political reporters in the industry.
Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas have been coanchoring Univision’s nightly news, Noticias Univision, since 1988. In addition, Ramos hosts Univision’s Sunday public affairs show, Al Punto, on which the campaign season is a regular topic.
Salinas has interviewed every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter; Ramos has interviewed all since Bill Clinton. Salinas was the first journalist to interview President Obama following his State of the Union address. And just prior to the Jan. 31 Republican primary in Florida, Univision partnered with the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Miami Dade College to sponsor a “Meet the Candidates” forum in which Ramos and Salinas questioned Republican candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.
Not to be outdone, Telemundo conducted the first interview with Romney after his primary win in Florida. Jose Diaz-Balart, who hosts Telemundo’s Sunday public affairs show, Enfoque, also interviewed Gingrich and Santorum. Last September, Diaz-Balart was one of the questioners at a Republican debate at the Ronald Reagan Library sponsored by NBC and Politico. Diaz-Balart has also appeared on MSNBC shows to discuss the campaign.
More recently, CNN en Español aired a special edition of Directo USA hosted by Juan Carlos Lopez, featuring in-depth interviews Lopez had conducted with the top Republican contenders, followed by analysis from a team of political experts. Telemundo also recently conducted a major survey of Hispanic voters in conjunction with ABC News and research group Latino Decisions.
CNN en Español last October in conjunction with the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles sponsored a two-part GOP primary special that aired on the network. CNN en Espanol also has partnered with CNN on all the debates. During CNN en Espanol’s coverage of the Hispanic Network Leadership Conference on the same night as the CNN televised Republican debate last month, Lopez and participants from the Leadership conference asked the Republican candidates at the debate questions via a live feed during the CNN telecast.
The Hispanic news media clearly are not only playing a significant role in coverage of the primaries, they also have the respect of all the major candidates. The GOP hopefuls seem to be treating Hispanic media on par with their English-language networks, if not going out of their way to be sure they make their points to Hispanic voters.
And the candidates are smart to do this if they want the Hispanic vote. While CNN en Español has only about 7 million subscribers, it is treated like a major player.
“It’s a gold standard to the candidates as far as viewers go,” says Cynthia Hudson, senior VP, general manager for CNN en Español and Hispanic strategy for CNN/U.S. “I think the candidates see our engagement levels and see us as an integral part of reaching the voters they need to reach.”
CNN en Español also says it is the No. 1 news account in the world in Spanish on Twitter, with 1.9 million followers, and the seventh-largest news account overall. The network says it also has 933,000 fans on Facebook, second-largest among Spanish-language news organizations behind Todo Noticias of Argentina.
Even their own parent companies are embracing their Spanish-language counterparts more than ever this election cycle.
Hudson says this is the first time in national political elections that CNN en Español has been cobranded with CNN and shared in coverage. “It’s the first time that the network has been perceived to be a major asset to English-language CNN,” she says. “We launched our primary coverage last July. Since then we have been doing tagteam coverage with CNN. We cosponsor the debates with CNN and we carry all of them live, translating them into Spanish. And our political analyst, Marisa Cardona, also appears on CNN.”
Telemundo’s Falcon says her network’s partnership with NBC News “is extremely important to us, a very valuable asset.” She adds that Telemundo plans to cover every Republican caucus and primary going forward, offering coverage across all of its platforms. She says while extra emphasis will be on covering states with large Hispanic populations, all primaries will be covered. Falcon also says Telemundo will expand Enfoque from a half-hour to an hour in the near future.
“Our philosophy is the same as the English-language news networks— to keep our viewers as informed as possible on all the issues,” Falcon says. “Yes, Hispanics are concerned about immigration issues, but they also care about healthcare, education and jobs. But we present our coverage as those issues relate to the Hispanic community.”
Univision’s Lee says his network is planning to conduct three more polls before the November election and also plans to cover the Super Tuesday primary elections on March 6 as much as the other primary contests, even though none of the states have heavy Hispanic populations. “We have a responsibility to the Hispanic community to cover the primaries as completely as possible and give [viewers] the best possible information on which to base their vote,” Lee says. “We see ourselves as part of the pack that includes ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.”
And if the candidates have any second thoughts about the reach of the Hispanic networks, they just need to look at some recent ratings numbers. Telemundo’s nightly newscast, Noticiero Telemundo, increased its viewers by 16% in 2011. In January, Univision’s Noticiero Univision averaged 2.1 million viewers with a median audience age of 44, compared to 62 for the Englishlanguage networks’ nightly news telecasts. And the 2.1 million Hispanic viewers in that nightly half-hour are more than the combined Hispanic viewership of the nightly newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC (942,000).
“Both parties are still in the early stages of trying to do what they can to win the Hispanic vote,” Univision’s Lee says. “But the candidates are all making themselves available, including President Obama. They understand if they want to win the election, the Spanishlanguage media is a necessary path.”
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