Univision is on a mission to register 3 million new Latino voters for this year’s presidential election -- and, if the last election is any indication, as many as three-fourths of those who wind up voting would favor Democrats.
So let’s abandon any pretense that there is no ulterior motive here — especially since Univision chairman Haim Saban is a prolific Democratic donor who in the current cycle has contributed $2.5 million to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC backing Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
There’s also the matter of the Spanish-language network’s public spats with Republican front-runner Donald Trump, which have included breaking off a business partnership involving the Miss Universe pageant. Trump sued, and the two sides settled earlier this month.
Univision’s insistence that this is a strictly nonpartisan initiative is a nice sentiment. But practically speaking, it's just not.
That's not the same thing as saying there's anything wrong with the effort, which is similar to a previously announced undertaking by Telemundo. We’re not talking about voter fraud here. This isn’t a dirty trick. This is an attempt to include in the political process people who have every right to vote but belong to a demographic group that historically does not turn out at a high rate.
In the 2014 mid-term election, the Latino voter turnout rate was just 27 percent, according to the Pew Research Center; white and black voters turned out at 46 percent and 41 percent, respectively.
The gap was roughly the same in the 2012 presidential election. Latinos turned out at a rate of 48 percent, according to Pew, while white and black eligible voters turned out at 67 percent and 64 percent, respectively.
One way to look at the registration drive is that Univision is trying to change the composition of the electorate in a way that helps Democrats. But another — and, I think, more accurate — way to look at it is that the composition of the electorate has already changed and that Univision is trying to make sure the population that shows up at the polls reflects the population, overall.
The new voters Univision registers — at Copa América soccer matches and through public service announcements — might also be called voters who should have been participating all along. Univision isn’t trying to inflate the Latino bloc; it’s helping to correct what has long been a nationwide deflation of the Latino vote.
Skeptics are already preparing to monitor the registration effort closely. From today’s Los Angeles Times:
Ken Oliver-Mendez, the director of an organization that tracks what it sees as liberal bias in the Spanish-language media, said Univision has not covered Republicans fairly in the past, and its voter-registration efforts should be closely examined.
“We all believe in getting more people to vote,” said Oliver-Mendez, director of MRC Latino. “But we’re going to be looking critically at what issues they present as important.”
He complained that Univision puts too much emphasis on immigration coverage — which he says favors Democrats — and doesn't spend enough time on other issues that are important to many Latinos, such as abortion or the economy.
Oliver-Mendez’s observations might be spot-on. But the solution is for Republican candidates to do a better job of persuading Latinos to vote for them; it’s not for Univision to stop trying to motivate Latinos to vote.