Se Habla Español: Spanish-language Appeals and Candidate Evaluations in the United States

Co-authored with Marques Zárate and Angel Armenta
Invited to revise and resubmit at the American Political Science Review

Political candidates engage in Spanish-language appeals in efforts to increase support among Hispanic voters. We argue that candidates, Hispanic or not, can use Spanish to signal closeness to Hispanics, and posit that the effectiveness of these appeals is conditional on fluency. To test this, we run an experiment where participants listen to an audio clip of a hypothetical candidate’s stump speech. We vary the ethnicity of the candidate (Anglo or Hispanic) and the language of the speech (English, poor Spanish, and fluent Spanish). We find that Hispanic support for the Anglo and Hispanic candidates is higher in the fluent Spanish condition compared to the English-only condition. Relative to the English condition, poor Spanish does not increase support for the Anglo candidate but it decrease support for the Hispanic candidate. Similar findings are found for Anglo participants. Our results suggest that candidates can effectively appeal to Hispanic voters using Spanish-language messages.