Speaking Spanish poorly is a good way to lose votes from the Hispanic community

A recent study shows that candidates can gain votes by speaking Spanish, but not being fluent comes at a cost.

The Hispanic vote is increasingly important. It is not only the fastest-growing voting group but it has already proved to be key in previous elections.

Trying to appeal to this community, some candidates deliver key messages in Spanish, with varying degrees of success. The 2020 primaries left behind phrases such as "cada votante necesitamos la representación" -which roughly translates to "every voter needs representation"- by Beto O'Rourke. Another phrase was “este presidente ha dimonezado (sic) los inmigrantes, cambiaré este" - in which Senator Cory Booker mistakingly said "dimonezado" instead of "demonizado." 

Speaking Spanish is an effective tool to attract Hispanic voters, according to a new study published in the American Political Science Review. However, babbling a few words is not enough. Fluency matters.

Participants in 'Se Habla Español: Spanish-Language Appeals and Candidate Evaluations in the United States' listened to excerpts of speeches by potential candidates. The ethnicity of the speaker varied between Anglo and Spanish and the language did as well. There was everything from native Spanish, to non-native Spanish and English. 

The first result that the study revealed is that this community is not interested in the politician's ethnicity. It is equally willing to support an Anglo or a Hispanic. What does change is the politician's ability to express themself in Spanish, and how well they do it.

As expected, speaking Spanish like a native is the best way to get through to a Hispanic citizen. Compared to candidates who only speak English, those who speak Spanish as if it were their native language have an advantage. On the contrary, trying to communicate in Spanish without speaking is not an effective way to gain support, it actually has the opposite effect. 


In 1976, Gerald Ford made a historic gaffe. The then-president was in San Antonio, Texas trying to attract the Mexican-American vote. When offered a tamale, Ford ate it without removing the corn husk.

"The Great Tamale Incident," as it was later called, is used as an example of hispandering. The term, a combination of "Hispanic" and "pandering," refers to frustrated attempts to fake interest in Hispanic affairs and culture.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to suspect that there are mere electioneering intentions behind using Spanish words. 48% of Republicans considered it complacent but insincere -or hispandering- for a candidate to speak in Spanish throughout the campaign. Only 31% of Democrats agreed.

Independents outnumber both with 57%. This data comes from a YouGov poll. which also concluded that 42% of Americans find presidential candidates to be guilty of hispandering when they speak Spanish during a televised debate.