Sunday, November 4, 2007

T Minus 1 Day: Utah Voucher Melee

Tomorrow, Utah's citizens will vote on one of the most controversial and innovative programs to be recently proposed in their state. Their collective "yay" or "nay" will determine whether or not a new universal voucher program will be created and opened to all the children in Utah.

With only one day to convince undecided voters, both sides are working in full-gear, frantically trying to win over the public. I should know this, because I've spent the past three days in Utah and I'm just not sure I can stand to watch another NEA-sponsored commercial while trying to enjoy my late-night "Meerkat Manor."

All joking aside, the media efforts of both sides are impressive. Salt Lake is literally covered in pro- and anti-voucher propaganda, from highway signs to flyers to radio and TV ads. The voucher yard signs are even competing for space with the mayoral candidates' signs. It almost seems as if there is no other issue on the ballot this year.

And while these PR campaigns seem to be well crafted for their main audience - the White, middle-class population of Utah - they are missing a critical segment of the state's population - Latinos. Hispanics comprise 13% of Utah's population and arguably, are the group that stands to benefit the most from the voucher legislation. All this adds up to a powerful vote. So why isn't anyone reaching out to Latinos?

Here are two possible obstacles (and some ideas on how school choice groups can work around them):

1.) A perceived language barrier.

School choice groups may reluctant to reach out to Latinos because of the time and resources involved in producing bilingual materials and advertisements. However, according to the US Census, only 3.5% of Utah's population speaks only Spanish (no English) at home. Therefore, choice groups could continue to produce materials in English and reach a large segment of the Latino population. However, their materials will have to be tailored to the Latino population - could I please get a single Latino face in a voucher commercial? It would be nice.

As a former teacher, I also have to add this: give your audience materials that they can actually read. Materials written at a college level may look sophisticated and thus, “credible,” but if the community can’t read them, they’re essentially worthless. You CAN write about school choice at a 5th grade level (I have!), but you’ll need to be creative with your style.

2.) Irrelevant outreach tactics.

Blogs, You Tube videos, and newspaper Op-eds are great, but they are not necessarily the best ways to reach a Latino audience. In this community, face time is still the best way to get your message across. The voucher debate is big in new and traditional media, but few groups are attempting any grassroots work. This is a critical strategy for the Hispanic community. Utah's Latinos need information about the issue, but they also need to know about the voting process, how to register to vote, and the impact of their vote. To truly convince Latino voters of their political power and get them to exercise that vote, you have to work in the community, get to know the voters, and be available (and able) to walk them through the process.

Any other ideas? I would love to hear them.

Note: Another interesting article to consider is yesterday's Salt Lake Tribune poll on why Utahans support or oppose vouchers. It's good data to consider when we're developing our marketing and outreach strategies.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps also the (real or imagined) perception that Latinos are less likely to vote than whites, either because they're illegal or just not registered. Registering new voters is always a key grassroots strategy, but it also costs more, takes more time, and requires more on-the-ground outreach than pure Get Out The Vote efforts, which might push groups away from the Hispanic community relative to their white counterparts.