Presidential Election Coverage: Maria Elena Salinas
September 23, 2012 —
Maria Elena Salinas, a member of the IWMF Board of Directors and news anchor at the Spanish-language television network Univision, is one of the most recognized and influential Hispanic journalists in the U.S. As co-anchor of the highly rated “Noticiero Univision” and the prime time news magazine “Aquí y Ahora”, she has informed the majority of the U.S. Hispanic population about major news events for over a quarter century.
“The Voice of Hispanic America”, as Salinas was titled by The New York Times, has interviewed every U.S. President since Jimmy Carter and almost all of the major Presidential candidates. Furthermore, in 2007, Salinas and her colleague Jorge Ramos made history by co-hosting the first ever Democratic and Republican presidential candidate forums in Spanish on the Univision Network.
Salinas’ insightful work as a reporter for KMEX-34 television in Los Angeles, which included covering the 1981 Reagan election, quickly earned her the credibility that would lead to her assuming the anchor chair of Noticiero Univision in 1987. Last month, she co-hosted meetings with Presidential candidates Romney and Obama at the University of Miami, broadcasted in Spanish on Univision, where the candidates offered their opinions on immigration, education, and foreign policy.
IWMF: Last month, the Presidential candidates faced the questions of the Latino community in a unique format on Univision. How did these shows come about?
Salinas: We’ve done debates in the past and we attempted to host a debate with the Republican presidential hopefuls during the beginning of the primaries but they did not accept. There were requests from Univision to the Presidential Debate Commission to include one moderator from the Spanish language media in the 2012 presidential debates but the petition was denied. So we decided to “throw our own party”.
We invited both campaigns and they accepted. The format was different from a debate because we talked to each of the candidates individually. It was a great opportunity for Latinos to hear the different points of view, and for the candidates to address Latino issues.
IWMF: What aspects of the 2012 presidential election do you find most interesting?
Salinas: What I find very interesting is that in the Hispanic community, immigration has taken the place of education and health care, and now ranks second on the list of campaign issues. The most important issue is still the economy and employment but lately the immigration issue has creeped up. Just to help you put into perspective why immigration is such an important topic: Latino voters don’t have an immigration problem, they are U.S. citizens – otherwise they wouldn’t be able to vote.
However, they either have been immigrants at one point or have family members or friends that have been or are immigrants. The negative tone of the immigration debate affects the community as a whole, it has spilled over and is affecting the image and the treatment of all Latinos whether they are citizens or not. That is why the immigration debate has become sort of a symbolic issue – the position of a candidate on immigration is what’s going to help a Latino decide which candidate to vote for.
IWMF: In the secretly taped Mitt Romney video that went viral a few weeks ago, he jokes about having a better shot at winning this election if he was Latino. How was that statement perceived by the Hispanic community?
Salinas: I don’t think Romney’s statement was considered a racial slur but I think it offended the intelligence of the Latino community. The Republican Party is perceived by most Latinos as not being in touch with the issues that affect them, however Republicans are not considered being generally “anti-Hispanic”.
President George W. Bush got 44% of the Latino vote – for two reasons: not only because he spoke a few words of Spanish here and there, but because he always campaigned in favor of immigration reform. I guess being a “border Governor” made him a little more sensitive to some of the issues that affect Latinos. If being a Latino is all you need to become President, then Bill Richardson would be President right now. But being Mexican-American did obviously not help him much in getting elected.
IWMF: Some believe that campaign ads are more crucial to winning a presidential election than televised presidential debates – while others are convinced that debates do more to sway voters than all the ads money can buy. With particular respect to the Hispanic community in the US, what do you think?
Salinas: That’s a tough question. The majority of the campaign ads are negative, whether they are in English or Spanish. Ads rarely offer the opinion of a candidate; they are mostly attacking the other candidate. My personal opinion is that Latinos don’t like hostility and I think these ads could be a little bit of a turn-off for Latino voters. In order to know how the candidate can affect your life, I think the debates, or forums like the one we held, are more important because the candidates actually try to explain why you should vote for them, as opposed to the ads that tell you why you shouldn’t vote “for the other guy”.
IWMF: Issues that are of particular interest to women, such as the various aspects of women’s reproductive health, are playing an increasing role in this year’s election campaigns. Is this controversy a step forward because it turns the spotlight on women’s issues, or is it a step backward because some of the debated opinions are perceived as reactionary?
Salinas: We thought this debate was a thing of the past. I remember covering elections when abortion was a major issue and we thought that right now, people were going to concentrate on more important issues. However, because of comments that have been made, women’s issues have become a campaign issue. The latest poll among Latino women shows that President Obama is favored by 74%, Romney only by 21%. It is obvious that this debate resonates with Latino women.
IWMF: Until this year, only one woman has ever moderated a televised presidential debate – and that was 20 years ago. In your opinion, why do women have such a hard time breaking this glass ceiling?
Salinas: I find it very surprising. You would think that there would be a better representation of women since there are actually more women than men in this country. I personally think that women are sometimes more “in tune” and more sensitive in asking questions. Women have really taken on a very important role in our society – women in general and Latino women specifically. Families listen to their opinion and depend on them for a lot of their decisions. Now, [laughs] I can offer my services to the Presidential Debate Commission in four years because with me they get a double whammy: I am Hispanic AND I am a woman!
Salinas and Ramos in conversation with President Barack Obama
Salinas and Ramos in conversation with Presidential candidate Mitt Romney
Salinas with the First Lady Michelle Obama on “Aquí y Ahora”