The #NotMyAbuela trending topic that no one really saw coming Tuesday night has had me thinking even more about political campaigning, and particularly how Hillary Clinton’s campaign messaging to young Latinos needs a serious reboot.
The conventional political wisdom would suggest that analyzing the reaction won’t even matter in the long run, given that according to the latest polling, Clinton holds a commanding lead with Latino voters, yet that very same polling showed Clinton’s Latino support decreasing. In addition, the Bernie Sanders campaign is expected to get more aggressive and intentional in reaching out to Latino voters, just like it did earlier this week when the Vermont senator showed up in Chicago’s Little Village.
Having covered Latinos and politics for a while now, I have heard too many times from too many voters, observers, pundits and campaign operatives that the current Clinton campaign is missing the mark with how it communicates to young Latinos. Instead of diving into the issues and being more serious about them, young Latinos get official campaign blog posts telling them how Clinton is just like their abuelas or, as another October post said—young Latinos should support Hillary because her mom was a domestic worker.
Those who have been following the Democratic campaigns from Day 1 will tell you that Clinton still has yet to address several issues that matter to young Latinos. They are the ones who will remind you of Clinton’s inconsistent record on immigration or that the campaign stopped taking donations from private prison lobbyists only after young Latinos spoke out. Young Latinos care about Honduras and say the Clinton’s actions in 2009 should be examined some more. They tell you that at times Clinton sounds like a Republican candidate, only to apologize later. They will also tell you that the Clinton campaign was the last one to comment on Christmas Eve about a new proposed Department of Homeland Security plan to deport more Central American families in 2016. While both Martin O’Malley and Sanders quickly condemned the proposed DHS plan, the comments from a Clinton campaign spokesperson were more muted.
These young Latinos will remind you that the Clinton campaign has yet to really shake off her 2014 remarks about Central American child migrants.
“They should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are, because there are concerns about whether all of them should be sent back But I think all of them who can be should be reunited with their families.”
Or that earlier this year, Clinton reiterated her position:
“Now I think we have a different problem. Because the emergency is over, we need to be moving to try to get people out of these detention centers, particularly the women and children. I think we need more resources to process them, to listen to their stories, to find out if they have family in this country, if they have a legitimate reason for staying. So I would be putting a lot of resources into doing that, but my position has been and remains the same.”
To many young Latinos, Central American migrants are seen as refugees fleeing from violence. Yet that is not the language Clinton uses, they tell you.
If the Hillary Clinton campaign can learn anything from the #NotMyAbuela story, it is this, from what I have been seeing in covering the election this year: young Latino voters see right through contrived marketing messages that speak to old tired stereotypes.
Young voters are longing for more substance and seriousness. Dig deeper, be respectful and treat young people like the smart amazing thinkers that they are.
That entire Twitter hashtag is a free campaign focus group for anyone who really wants to understand what young people are thinking these days. Belittling their comments because it goes against conventional standards of political messaging is not the right choice. Seeing what these young people are tweeting and truly embracing it—that will pay off in the end.
The Clinton campaign is smart and savvy enough to not underestimate the authentic and honest online reaction to the Abuela blog post. It has many Latinos working in the upper levels of the campaign who would understand why #NotMyAbuela is such an important development when it comes to taking messaging from the community and converting it into more effective political messaging.
2016 will be a pivotal year for young Latino voters, and those voters are demanding deep substance over glossy sizzle.
The campaigns that truly comprehend this takeaway will be the campaigns that win the votes of young Latinos.