To capture the Hispanic vote, politicians need to forget their obsession with the immigration issue, remember that Latinos are important swing voters and advertise in Spanish, according to an Advertising Week panel called "Will Latinos Elect Our Next President?"
Mark Mellman, a pollster and president-CEO of the Mellman Group, said, "The Latino community is disproportionately Democrats, but there are as many swing voters among Latinos as Anglos."
He said Hispanics represent about 9% or 10% of the electorate, but in key states can make up 12% to 16% of voters, and as much as 35% of the voting population.
And they're not as interested in the immigration issue as politicians appear to believe they are.
"They're more interested in the economy, jobs, education, government waste and higher taxes," Mr. Mellman said. "Language is also important. A large percentage of the swing voters -- one-third or more -- is Spanish dominant. A relatively small group only watches English-language media, and even they think it's important to advertise on Spanish-language media. They say that 's a sign of respect for their community."
Eighty-four percent of registered Latino voters go to the polls and vote, said Chiqui Cartagena, VP corporate marketing at Univision Communications. She said that 34% of Latinos are under 18 and that every year 500,000 Latinos turn 18, offering both parties an opportunity to woo young voters.
She said neither party is well-versed enough in Hispanic consumers to show they care about them. "They want to tick the [Latino] box and make the other candidate look bad. I want to be talked to about jobs and health care and government waste."
Ms. Cartagena said that 40% of new registered voters in 2008 were Latinos. Among all Latino voters, about 16% can be considered swing voters.
Those Latino swing voters are likely to be important in the 2012 presidential election. Mr. Mellman cited five states -- Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Nevada -- that will play a central role and have substantial Latino populations. Other very divided states like Virginia and North Carolina have smaller numbers of Latinos, but "every vote will count," he said.
In 2008, the Obama campaign spent about $25 million on Spanish-language media and the McCain campaign spent about $5 million. Lionel Sosa, a long-time Republican political consultant who currently works for Newt Gingrich, said he doesn't see that changing.
"Obama will be able to spend $25 million," he said. "The Republicans, it's hard to say. If it's Romney, he'll probably spend less, because even though Latinos don't care about immigration, when you talk about guns and fences, it sends out an unfriendly message. [But] the world could change 12 months from now. If things are looking up again, they could give Obama another chance."
He said it's more important for Democrats than Republicans to advertise in Spanish, and that Republicans can "feature a Latino as the hero in your general market ads. You don't spend one more nickel."