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Working Papers

“Is Campaign Messaging Language-Dependent?”

Abstract: American candidates for political office are increasingly betting on the use of Spanish on the chance that it will elevate their message and be rewarded by (Spanish-speaking) Latinx voters. Cross-linguistic appeals may be more common, but it is not yet known why, or the degree to which, they have any electoral benefit. In fact, rather than content alone, there is reason to believe that their persuasive impact may be tied to the very lexical choices that candidates make in translating their partisan brand. Individuals learn, retrieve memories, and express ideas in linguistically distinct ways, even when describing the same thing. Thus, when candidates mention a “women’s right to choose” in English, such a politically charged way of framing the referent issue may not have the same meaning as when individuals read “derecho de una mujer a elegir” in Spanish. Using a large, bilingual survey of over 2,000 native-Spanish-speaking Americans, this study tests for the effects of both framing and language.  Although framing effects occur regardless of whether the appeal is in Spanish or English, many rhetorical messages are sensitive to language-specific jargon: words that sway opinion in English do not always have the same effects when communicated in Spanish.  These results reveal the considerable risk to campaign efforts when candidates choose to run bilingual campaigns.

“Are Partisan Cues More Effective in English or Spanish?”

Abstract: This paper looks at ideological constraint relative to the language of communication. Specifically, it examines the ability of dual-language citizens to organize political considerations, figuring out how they relate to one another when the linguistic environment changes. Latinx bilinguals in the U.S. potentially encounter the same political information in English and again in Spanish but in different news sources and campaign marketing. This study examines why partisanship is far less powerful in shaping the opinions of Latinxs than non-Latinxs (even if the former vote overwhelmingly Democrat). This is done by testing whether language itself has uniform effects on the consistency of issue positions and the strength of elite, partisan signals. Further, it draws on a unique sample from a population of 2,000 native Spanish-speaking Latinxs who were randomly assigned to complete the study in either English or Spanish. The intent with this experiment was to test two alternative hypotheses: one, that operating in a second language requires so much cognitive effort that bilinguals will be more likely to rely on heuristics like partisan cues; or, two, that more challenging linguistic tasks will force bilinguals to become more attentive to the substance of statements, even bypassing powerful party signals. Something Latinxs already appear to be doing. The pattern of results from these experiments supports the latter hypothesis. That is, this study does find that the strength of partisan signals on opinion vary by language, and that these differences are significant.

“‘Hispandering’: Do Poorly Executed Spanish-Language Appeals Mitigate their Persuasive Effects?”

Abstract: This paper explores inferences made about a candidate based on what language they use and how well they are using it. This study brings to light striking trade-offs for campaigns considering a cross-linguistic media plan. Specifically, it tests whether electoral rewards occur in response to the mere attempt or are instead contingent on a certain level of success in execution. Such testing hypothesizes that voters may have an instinctive negative reaction to efforts that miss that mark, and that, in this case, candidates may only succeed in establishing themselves as an outsider. Further, some may have more room to fail than others, and their errors may be deemed relatively meaningless rather than a contemptible microaggression. The overall results point to a stunning dynamic: political wagers of this type have unequal payoffs. Candidates do indeed gain favor by signaling their familiarity with a language, irrespective of their ethnicity. That said, Latinxs were more likely to fault a co-ethnic candidate who says that they are not fluent in Spanish than they were to penalize a white candidate, presumably on the basis of the former failing to meet in-group expectations. However, when candidates do choose to use Spanish, but it is poorly done, those missteps are far more detrimental when made by a co-ethnic candidate. These political gaffes are so costly that they outweigh their potential reward.

For a copy of the working papers listed above