President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign website went up last week, complete with Dark Brandon merch, a new campaign video — and a Spanish-language version of their launch page. So far, Biden is the only presidential candidate to have such a translation.
But the page itself had multiple mistakes. The Spanish-language version underwent several edits since Tuesday — a corrected accent mark here, an added-then-removed-then-added-again “Unidos” there — before settling on a final version two days later.
Spanish translations often trip up campaigns, but the recent release of Biden’s site put a spotlight on the difficulties that even seasoned campaigns have in connecting with a bilingual electorate. Many point to the fact that Biden announced Julie Chávez Rodríguez, a Latina, would serve as his 2024 campaign manager, as a sign that he’s serious about reaching these voters. But the website snafu is part of a larger question: mainly, how will his reelection effort adjust after experiencing some difficulty recruiting his 65 percent share of the Latino vote in 2020?
Bilingual outreach is still one of the most important components of presidential campaigns, said Jess Morales Rocketto, chief of Moonshot Strategies at Equis Research and a former digital organizing director for Hillary Clinton. She pointed to Bernie Sanders’ campaign in 2020 as an example of intentional Spanish usage that propelled the senator to a stronghold on Latino engagement.
“I have firsthand knowledge of not only how much it resonates with the community, but also how much work it takes,” Morales Rocketto said of the Biden website launch. “It’s good that there’s two years here where they can really work out the kinks… I don’t think the problem is making mistakes. The problem is when you don’t have a strategy. The problem is when you don’t respect us in your policy positions, in your personnel positions.”
Republicans are keen to expose any fissures between Biden and Latino voters. They have adopted aggressive media strategies to reach that voting bloc and accused Democrats of misunderstanding the fundamental issues that animate them.
“What it tells me is that after four years, his Hispanic operation is still a mess,” said Giancarlo Sopo, a Republican communications strategist who worked on translations for former President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. He cited word-for-word mistranslations that could be confusing for native Spanish speakers as an example the campaign is “not that serious about going after the Hispanic vote … or that they’re ill-suited for that task.”
The stakes for Biden are high. As he launches his reelection, there are doubts about whether he’ll be able to replicate that multiracial excitement, even if he might face off against Trump again. His favorability has dropped across the board since last year, falling nearly 30 points among Latinos in some polling.
There’s evidence that Hispanic voters helped deliver Democrats big Senate wins of 2022 in Arizona and Nevada. A coordinated effort by Democratic groups focused on turning out more voters in a non-presidential election year and ramping up spending on Spanish-language advertising. By doing so, the demographic stretched several margins during the midterms, tipping the scale for Democratic senate and gubernatorial candidates. Hispanic voters are the second-largest voting bloc in the country, which means improving margins among this group can pay dividends in key states.
Republicans looking for gains with Latinos have lots of catching up to do on TV
Both parties argue that they made the most significant inroads with those communities last year. But for Democrats, replicating that momentum in a scaled-up presidential year is a higher degree of difficulty.
“They need to engage these voters more deeply, earlier, and focus on strengthening their economic message,” said Janet Murguía, president of Latino advocacy organization UnidosUS. “Not all of the achievements and outcomes and impacts that have resulted from the Biden administration’s proposals and policies are clearly understood to be connected to the president.”
Biden’s campaign faced criticism during the 2020 cycle for not devoting enough attention or resources to engaging Latinos compared to a more intense focus on white and Black voters. The most senior Latina official on his last campaign tasked with Hispanic outreach quit as well, frustrated over lack of input.
Biden and his team say they have a good platform to make the case for “finishing the job.”
Murguía said the party’s strategy should focus on touting Biden’s economic policies, consistently the top issue among Latino voters. The impact of the child tax credit and pandemic-era stimulus checks were important for financially boosting Hispanic households, she added. Though those policies are all in the rearview mirror. Officials close to the campaign said lower healthcare costs, job creation and decreasing unemployment rates will also be top messaging priorities this year.
Several sources said Chávez Rodríguez’s appointment in particular showcased how serious the president is about reaching Latino audiences, boosted by the presence of Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar of El Paso as a national co-chair.
As a veteran of two administrations and having experience in organizing, Chávez Rodríguez’s ability to connect with Latinos across the country, Murguía said, makes her a “home run” pick for Biden.
Though the Biden administration is less than a week into the campaign, some polls show the slight majority of Hispanic registered voters have a negative impression of the president. He has an average of about 35 percent favorability across the last three relevant Quinnipiac polls with Hispanic voters. That’s even with his performance among white voters, where he had a 36 percent favorability rate within the same period.
Those numbers among Latinos are a stark drop from a sweeping poll conducted by UnidosUS following the 2022 midterms that showed Hispanic support at a 64 percent approval rate compared to 42 percent of white respondents who approved of Biden’s performance.
Favorability at this point doesn’t always track with vote share. Former President Barack Obama’s approval fell to 49 percent at the end of 2011, though he rebounded to garner 71 percent of the Hispanic vote during his 2012 reelection. Meanwhile, Trump’s approval rating among Hispanics hovered around 30 percent in January 2019, and he received around 32 percent of the vote in 2020.
A Democratic campaign official said this cycle will expand on efforts from the midterms, where the organization spent seven figures on Spanish-language print and radio ads in states with strong Hispanic populations. This will include more bilingual outreach on platforms like WhatsApp and social media sites, as well as continuing culturally competent radio and TV spots.
Biden’s real problem with Latino voters
Spanish speakers comprise around 10 percent of adult American residents, with significant populations in some battleground states like Arizona and Nevada — two states potentially crucial to a Biden reelection campaign. They are also more likely to support Democratic candidates than English-dominant voters, though they tend to be less motivated to show up to cast a ballot.
“Seeing this early engagement of voters and voters of color by this campaign gives us a lot of encouragement that this is going to be an inclusive campaign that talks to our voters early, consistently,” said Nathalie Rayes, president and CEO of Latino Victory. “We’re excited to see that leadership at the table.”
Advocates broadly applauded the central role of Chávez Rodríguez and other Latino and Black leaders on Biden’s campaign team, but some say that representation is still the minimum when it comes to engaging voters.
“That alone is not going to be something that is going to really sway Latino voters to come out for President Biden’s reelection campaign,” said Mayra López-Zuniga, a political strategist with the progressive group Mijente. “We need a little bit more substance and be able to talk about policies and things that have actually changed the material conditions of people on the ground.”
Brakkton Booker contributed to this report.
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