Immigration Is Not The Most Important Issue For Hispanic Voters; Chiqui Cartagena And Leading Marketers Debate The Issues Which Will Drive Hispanic Voters

“I don’t care about immigration – I just don’t,” said Chiqui Cartagena, VP of Corporate Marketing for Univision. The audience giggled. Three other expert panelists on stage with Cartagena, as part of an event at Advertising Week called “Will Latinos Elect Our Next President?”, echoed her insistence that statistically-speaking, immigration is not as important to Latino voters as many think.

According to Univision polls, Cartagena said, immigration ranked number ten in most important issues for Latino voters. Issues like the economy, education, and jobs all ranked higher.

The other panelists at the event -- Politico reporter, Ben Smith; CEO of The Mellman Group, Mark Mellman; and advertising consultant to Newt Gingrich’s campaign, Lionel Sosa -- all asserted that there’s a good chance Latinos could be a swing vote in the 2012 election, and that politicians would do well to understand their real interests.

Mellman said that Latinos represent about 10% of the voting public, but in certain states Latino voters can make up as much as 35%. “The fact is that Latinos are a swing vote, something that is often overlooked by both Democrats and Republicans. As she [Cartagena] said this is not a single-issue community – and to the extent that it is, that issue is certainly not immigration,” Mellman said.

Ben Smith, a reporter for Politico, said that despite polling in 2008 which indicated that immigration was not the “single issue for Latinos”, Obama used the topic to “disqualify McCain in the eyes of Latino voters.” Obama’s strategy was to paint McCain as the candidate who is “aligned with people that hate you” by running ads that associated Rush Limbaugh with John McCain, said Smith. This depiction, he said, is one which Republicans like Romney would especially have to avoid if they run in the general election.

Although Obama won 67% of the Latino vote in 2008, George W. Bush won nearly half of the Latino vote in 2004. Lionel Sosa, advertising consultant to Newt Gingrich, said Bush’s campaign is evidence that the “the Latino is a swing vote.” Sosa says he learned this lesson from Ronald Reagan, when working on his 1980 campaign.

“He [Reagan] gave me the insight to what has been the strategy all along. He said, ‘Getting the Latino vote is not as difficult as we Republicans think – because Latinos have conservative values, Republicans have conservative values, and this is the thing that creates this bond between the two of us,” Sosa said.

Cartagena said that there will be 21 million eligible Latino voters in 2012, and that 16% of this population can be considered “swing voter” -- meaning that Latinos will play a more important role than ever before.

“Let’s keep in mind that in 2000 there were only 7 million Latino voters who actually voted. Since then, the number of Latinos who will be registered voters is estimated to be double that,” she said.

Cartagena also emphasized that the Latino population skews young, and that politicians would do well to focus their energies on this demographic. “Every year 500,000 or 600,000 Latinos turn 18, so the parties have an opportunity to engage this voter earlier on,” she said.

Later in the panel discussion, Cartagena qualified her statement about not caring about immigration herself, saying that the topic is only important to her as an American citizen and not because of her Latina identity. “Let’s not forget 85% or 90% of Latinos are here in this country legally…so I mean, let’s move on from that single issue,” she said.

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