Volume 7 | August 2014
This study illustrates the Spanish-language media’s impact on the behavior of lawmakers with large Hispanic constituencies through an analysis of the level of agreement on policy issue salience between these legislators and their mostly Hispanic constituents. I analyze original data from the Media and Public Policy in the States: 2011 Survey which reports the policy preferences of state legislators with large Hispanic constituencies and the degree to which they use Spanish-language media in their representative role. I operationalize the Spanish-language media environment as a set of independent variables affecting policy issue agreement. I find the presence of Spanish-language radio and television in state legislators’ districts has independent and conditional effects on predicting issue priority agreement between lawmakers and constituents. In identifying a relationship between the presence of Spanish-language media and policy agreement among lawmakers and their mostly Hispanic constituents, I reveal evidence of the Spanish-language’s function as an informational link between this population of lawmakers and their constituents along with preliminary evidence of the Spanish-language media’s potential to influence Hispanic policy agendas in the states.
Keywords: Spanish-Language Media, State Legislators, Policy Issue Agreement, Issue Salience
The Spanish-language media environment in the United States plays an important role in shaping mass- and elite-level behavior. Spanish-language media presence affects the degree to which elected representatives behave as “media entrepreneurs” (Kedrowski, 1996), as well as how U.S. Hispanics acquire and maintain knowledge of the political world. As such a significant presence in the lives of Latinos—elites and masses alike—the Spanish-language media environment is an important informational link between Hispanic constituencies and their political representatives. Drawing from our understanding of the process by which Latino policy issue agendas inform the representation of Latino constituencies (Rouse, 2013), I situate the Spanish-language media environment as critical to facilitating agreement between the policy issue preferences of state lawmakers and their Latino constituents. I do so by analyzing these preferences concurrently and illustrating the effects of Spanish-language media environments on the relationships between Hispanic constituents and lawmakers.
This paper is divided into five sections. First, I explore the news media’s role as a policy agenda setter with special attention to how the Spanish-language media fit this role. Next, I discuss the policy issues important to U.S. Hispanics and to state legislators according to the Media and Public Policy in the States: 2011 Survey (MPPS), my own national survey of state lawmakers. Third, I discuss the factors predicting state legislator-constituent issue priority agreement and my strategy for testing the theory of the Spanish-language media’s role in the level of agreement. Next, I report the findings of my statistical analysis. Finally, I conclude with a discussion of the implications of these findings for our understanding of the role Spanish-language media play in the ever-evolving relationships between lawmakers and their constituents.
News Media and the Policymaking Agenda
Understanding the role of the news media as an agenda setter through a variety of analytical lenses serves as a foundation for our understanding of the significance of the Spanish-language media’s role in facilitating policy priority agreement between legislators and constituents. Local and national media outlets help to shape dialogue and the preferences of policy elites in ways Shudson (2008) calls the media’s functions as analyst of government activity and as facilitator of political dialogue, as well as what Arnold (2004) describes as an arbiter role for opinion leaders seeking to inform and influence representatives’ policy views. In studies of the interactions between the national and local press corps and the U.S. Congress (Cater, 1959; Cook & Skogan, 1991; Trumbo, 1995; Bartels, 1996; Baumgartner, Jones, & Leech, 1997; Vinson, 2003; Arnold, 2004), the president (Gilberg. Eyal, McCombs, & Nicholas, 1980; Wanta & Foote, 1994; Wood & Peake 1998), and other national-level opinion leaders and policymakers, students of political communication have identified a strong relationship between media coverage and the substance and tone of policy agendas.
It is reasonable to expect lawmakers and other policymakers who conceptualize their representative role as that of a delegate of their constituents would reject the notion of the news media as a policy agenda setter. Yet, the news media serve an important representative function even for policymakers we might expect to have the most direct, unadulterated contact with their constituents. The information lawmakers acquire from the news media, though it reflects some combination of objective reporting and media opinion, can often be interpreted by policymakers as the reflection of public opinion—or the voice of the people—itself (Herbst, 1998). Coupled with evidence that the public’s evaluation of politicians is often primed on the basis of the issues advanced, discussed, and promoted by the news media (Iyengar & Reeves, 1997), the notion that the news media influence policymakers to the point that they wield considerable agenda-setting power is not far-fetched. Thus, scenarios in which policymakers adopt issues advanced in the news media and follow the news media’s lead on various issues are certainly plausible (Walgrave & Van Aelst, 2006), and perhaps even prevalent. From the view that the news is an institutionalized coproduction of journalists and public officials (Cook, 1998; Vinson, 2003), I now turn to the policy issues that may be considered “newsworthy” by the Hispanic public and their state legislators.
Toward a Hispanic Policy Agenda
This article is designed as a test of the theory of the Spanish-language media as an informational link between state legislators and Latino constituents, one with meaningful implications for the substantive representation of Latinos in state legislatures. In the process of developing the phenomenon under investigation here—issue priority agreement—we also learn a great deal about the policy issues of concern to state legislators and their largely Latino constituencies. While my discussion and analysis are geared toward developing an understanding of the policy priorities shared by these groups, policy preferences and priorities are typically studied empirically in isolation. In the empirical test anchoring this article’s discussion I analyze only the effects of the Spanish-language media on the degree to which state legislators and their largely Hispanic constituents agree on what policy issue is most important. In this section I briefly review the evolution of Latino mass opinion on the important policy issues facing their communities and the nation before revealing findings from the MPPS survey of elite opinion of policy issue priorities.
Identifying issues that constitute a Hispanic policy agenda is a necessary first step in an inquiry into whether Hispanic state lawmakers and constituencies agree on the salience of different policy issues. Language access policies such as bilingual education and policies affecting immigrants from Latin America continue to be important to U.S. Latinos, and are perhaps most likely to be the issues that come to mind when analysts of U.S. Hispanic politics, myself included, make assumptions about the development of a U.S. Hispanic policy agenda. These assumptions are, to be sure, grounded in decades’ worth of opinion data. Historically, U.S. Hispanics have held views of policy issues that differ significantly from those of other racial and ethnic groups. Bilingual education and immigration policy are examples of policy issues where Hispanic opinion deviates significantly from the views of Whites, African Americans, and Asian Americans (Cain & Kiewiet, 1987). Latinos consistently support bilingual education while support among whites and African Americans for bilingual education programs has been less consistent (Uhlaner, 1991).
Keeping in mind that Latinos and so-called “Hispanic issues” must compete with a multitude of interests to get on policymaking agendas, they can potentially be divisive. Bilingual education, for example, is a policy issue that can be interpreted as symbolic by some ethnic, economic, or national origin groups, and as a policy tied to material interest by others (Schmidt, 2000). Even on the issue of immigration, studies of Hispanic mass opinion reveal that while immigration is important to all Latinos, opinion is divided among the different Latino subgroups (Michelson, 2001).
In a recent Noticias Univisión/Latino Decisions (2012) national survey of Hispanic registered voters, the most important issues influencing Latinos’ decision of which party they would vote for in 2012 were the economy (36%), jobs/employment (25%), immigration reform (24%), healthcare (16%), and education (14%). As we will see, these top five issue priorities for a national sample of Latinos are five of the top six policy issues state legislators reported in 2011 as their top legislative priorities and the issues they believed were most important to their constituents.
A dearth of knowledge about Hispanic elites’ policy preferences and priorities creates much of the difficulty in identifying Hispanic elite-Hispanic mass agreement on issue saliency, as well as a Hispanic policy agenda. What we do know about Hispanic elites’ assessments of what constitutes “Hispanic issues” is limited to a thin understanding provided by national advocacy groups’ evaluations of U.S. Congressional performance. The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), a nonpartisan association of 40 national and regional Hispanic advocacy organizations, develops and publishes annually a “Hispanic policy agenda” that covers a broad range of “Hispanic” policy issues including civil rights, immigration, economic empowerment, health, and government accountability. While NHLA asserts that the set of issues they deem important to the U.S. Hispanic community are those that “serve the [Hispanic] community,” the organization also claims that these issues “enable the community to better serve the nation” (NHLA, 2008). The NHLA also issues “scorecards” for all members of Congress, evaluating their support of legislation classified by the NHLA as a part of the Hispanic policy agenda. The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda and their scorecards are, to my knowledge, the closest analysts have come to an understanding of what constitutes a consensus Hispanic policy agenda from the perspective of elites (i.e., advocacy organizations). By focusing on issues and legislation before the U.S. Congress, the NHLA’s evaluations are directed at Latino policy matters facing the nation, but many matters included in these scorecards may be of concern only to Latino elites rather than Hispanic mass publics. Furthermore, we still know relatively little about the opinions of individual members of Congress with respect to what constitutes a Hispanic policy agenda at the national level.
The process through which constituent interests are transformed into substantive policy representation (Bratton & Haynie, 1999; Rouse, 2013) lies at the center of Hispanic policy agenda setting. In examining the factors influencing Latino interest representation at the subnational level, Rouse (2013) notes that much Latino agenda setting takes shape as a function of the institutional characteristics of state legislatures and the work of Latino legislators on important committees.
The Media and Public Policy in the States: 2011 Survey
Motivated by the fact that very little is known about the opinions and orientations of Latino public officials at the subnational level, in spring 2011 I fielded a survey of the attitudes and policy orientations of state legislators with large Hispanic constituencies in which I inquired about the state of the Hispanic policy agenda in the U.S. states. Table 1 is a report of party and Hispanic demographic characteristics of the Media and Public Policy in the States (MPPS) survey respondents as they compare to those of their respective state legislatures.
Table 1. State Legislature Demographics: Population and MPPS Survey Sample Compared
|State||Number of State Legislators||Hispanic (%)||Sample
Sources: Media and Public Policy in the States: 2011 Survey, National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) www.ncsl.org
The overall response of 100 returned surveys is 26% of the total recruitment effort in the MPPS survey. The 29 responses from non-Hispanic legislators were 20% of the 143 non-Hispanic state legislators recruited as a comparison group. The response rate of 72 surveys from Hispanic state legislators is 30% of the population of 242 Hispanic state legislators in the U.S. in 2009. These 100 responses comprise the elite survey data used in the empirical analysis.
Seventy-two (72%) of the survey responses are from Hispanic state legislator respondents and 29 (29%) from non-Hispanic legislator respondents. Over two- thirds (68%) of survey respondents were legislators, not legislative staff. By completing 32% of the surveys returned, constituting one-third of the sample, legislative staff made a significant contribution to this study. Nonetheless, it is also important to note that “almost without exception, staff mirror the member’s philosophy, approach, and values” (Kedrowski, 1996, p.18).
The average size of the 19 state legislatures (both upper and lower chambers combined) from which the survey respondents hail is 143 members. On average, Hispanic state legislators account for 7.7% of the total state legislator population in those 19 states. Hispanic MPPS respondents represent, on average, 87.3% of the sample in the 19 states. In the 6 states in which both Hispanic and non-Hispanic legislators were recruited, Hispanic legislators are, on average, 59.7% of the sample. Non-Hispanic legislators account for 83% of state legislators in the six states from which they were sampled. In those same six states, non-Hispanic legislators in the MPPS sample—representatives of large Hispanic constituencies—account for 40.3% of respondents.
The percentage of Democrats in the state legislatures (50%) from the 19 states represented is a lower proportion than that of the 76% of MPPS respondents who are Democrats. Although these differences in Hispanic/non-Hispanic and party affiliation potentially introduce bias to the sample, given the small, relatively homogeneous nature of the population of Hispanic state legislators, I analyze the sample understanding this potential for biases. Still, the results I present are generalizable to the population of interest, given that the key variables (e.g. Hispanic ethnicity, gender and party affiliation) are distributed similarly among survey respondents and non-respondents alike.
In the survey I asked state legislators two quasi-open-ended questions aimed at revealing their own legislative priorities as representatives in the state house and their perceptions of their constituents’ preferences. They were asked:
Issue Priority Question # 1: If you were serving in the state legislature during the last session, what three pieces of legislation debated during the last legislative session were most important to you?
Issue Priority Question # 2: What are the three most important policy issues affecting your district?
Although the questions were open-ended, I asked respondents to rank their answers in order from 1-to-3, thereby structuring responses in order to facilitate the current analysis of top policy issue agreement and delegate-style representation. Similar to McCombs & Shaw’s (1972) interview questions administered in the context of campaign issue importance, these questions are aimed at revealing issue importance in a manner guided by the significance of the news media to the agenda-setting process. Recording legislators’ perceptions of the policy issues affecting their districts proved to be more straightforward than coding the pieces of legislation most important to them in the previous legislative session because in several cases the latter involved the additional step of translating reported bill numbers into the substantive meaning of the legislation. Legislators—both Hispanic and non-Hispanic—reported a total of 52 unique policy issues as legislative priorities and/or district issue priorities, which are reported in Table 2. Education policy was, by a wide margin, the most frequently mentioned policy issue (117 mentions) among state legislators, followed by healthcare, jobs, the state budget, and the economy. The issues of immigration and driver licenses for undocumented immigrants occupy the sixth and seventh most frequently mentioned policy issues, while taxes, housing, and water round out the top ten issues most important to legislators and their largely Latino districts. Because the sample of state legislator respondents represent largely Latino districts in which their constituencies were on average 50.1% Hispanic, and as much as 96.4% Hispanic (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009), we might interpret these top five legislative issue preferences and perceived district priorities as the beginnings of a Hispanic policy agenda in the states from the state legislators’ perspective.
Table 2. District-Level and State Legislator Policy Issue Priorities (MPPS: 2011 Survey)
|Issue||Top Dist. Priority||Top Legis. Priority||Second Dist. Priority||Second Legis. Priority||Third Dist. Priority||Third Legis. Priority||Total Mentions|
|Driving Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants||2||15||17|
|Cap & Trade||1||1|
|Minority & Women-Owned Businesses||1||1|
|Quality of Life||1||1|
Source: Media and Public Policy in the States: 2011 Survey
Figure 1. Average Policy Area Importance Assigned by State Legislators
In a separate, structured survey question I asked legislators to indicate how important ten different policy areas are to their district’s constituents. The average levels of importance legislators assigned to these policy areas are reported in Figure 1. Here we observe that education, healthcare, and jobs/economy are the three issues receiving the highest average rating of importance among both Hispanic and non-Hispanic state legislators (all approaching “5” or “Very Important”), which is consistent with the top mentions by legislators in the semi-structured questions. On average, Hispanic legislators assign slightly more importance to these issues than non-Hispanic legislators. Immigration policy is of considerable importance to all state legislators; they assign an average level of importance equal to just above “4” or “Important” on the scale. On this question non-Hispanic legislators, on average, assign slightly more importance to immigration. Trade issues, agriculture, and language access earn the lowest evaluations of policy area importance from legislators. Both Hispanic and non-Hispanic state legislators assign, on average, agriculture and trade issues as somewhere between “2” (“Not Important”) and “3” (“Neutral”) with non-Hispanic legislators caring slightly more than Hispanic legislators about these issues. We see the most significant disagreement between Latino and non-Latino legislators on the issue of language access, an issue to which non-Latino legislators are virtually indifferent, but that Latino legislators find to be important. The weight assigned by Hispanic legislators and non-Hispanic legislators with largely Hispanic constituencies to this selection of policy areas also helps us to begin identifying a Hispanic policy agenda from the point of view of Latino political leaders with the power to promote these issues to state legislative agendas.
Given the challenges of gathering valid, independent data on estimates of constituents’ issue priorities and preferences on state-level policy, this study depends on legislators’ own perceptions of these preferences. Although lawmakers’ legislative priorities are often related to the characteristics of their respective legislative institutions (including their own committee assignments) and the behaviors of their fellow legislators and other agenda setters, an important job of every lawmaker is to be familiar with district priorities and reconcile her institutional functions with her representative ones. I argue here that issue priority agreement–when a legislator’s top issue priority is the same as the her perception of constituent preferences–represents the reconciliation of these functions.
Building on our understanding of the news media’s agenda-setting role (McCombs & Shaw, 1972; Cook, 1998; Iyengar & Reeves, 1997; Arnold, 2004; Schudson, 2008), Latino legislative agenda setting (Rouse, 2013), the Spanish-language media’s relationship to Latino group consciousness (Kerevel, 2011), and Hispanics’ policy preferences (Uhlaner, 1991; Uhlaner & Garcia, 2002; Schmidt, 2000; Michelson, 2001; Sánchez, 2006; Dunaway, Branton, & Abrajano, 2010), I argue here that the Spanish-language media play an important role in facilitating agreement between state legislators’ and Latino constituents’ policy issue priorities. In what follows I present a set of research hypotheses aimed at situating this study of issue priority agreement in a broader framework, portraying the Spanish-language media as an informational link between state legislators and their constituents.
Hypotheses and Variables
To test my argument that the Spanish-language media environment contributes to the congruence of district (constituent) policy preferences and individual state legislator policy preferences, I advance these hypotheses:
H1a: The presence of Spanish-language print media in a state legislator’s district has a positive effect on issue priority agreement between legislator and district preferences.
H1b: The presence of Spanish-language television in a state legislator’s district has a positive effect on issue priority agreement between legislator and district preferences.
H1c: The presence of Spanish-language radio in a state legislator’s district has a positive effect on issue priority agreement between legislator and district preferences.
Because news media effects often interact with other environmental factors, I argue that Hispanic state legislators draw upon group affinity/group consciousness (Fox, 1996; Sánchez, 2006; Kerevel, 2011) in their use of, and interactions with, Spanish-language media in ways that differ from their non-Latino counterparts in the state capitol. To test for this effect, I offer the following hypotheses of the conditional effects of Spanish-language media on issue priority agreement:
H2a: The effects of Spanish-language print media in a state legislator’s district on issue salience agreement between legislator and district preferences are stronger for Hispanic legislators.
H2b: The effects of Spanish-language television in a state legislator’s district on issue salience agreement between legislator and district preferences are stronger for Hispanic legislators.
H2c: The effects of Spanish-language radio in a state legislator’s district on issue salience agreement between legislator and district preferences are stronger for Hispanic legislators.
In addition to my expectations of the independent and conditional effects of the media environmental variables, I also argue legislators’ individual behavior is central to the Spanish-language media’s effectiveness as an informational link between state legislators and Latino constituents. Building on the postulation of an informational link, it follows that we ought to observe a relationship between the amount of Spanish-language media that legislators use and the level of issue priority agreement between legislators and Latino constituents. Thus, I propose the following hypothesis:
H3: Legislators’ frequency of Spanish-language media use has a positive effect on legislator-constituency issue priority agreement.
The degree to which legislators “make present” the views of their constituents in the state capitol, and where state legislators fall in the “mandate-independence controversy” (Pitkin, 1967), both inform my conceptualization of Latino constituency representation by state legislators. In this analysis of Spanish-language media’s impact on early stages of the policymaking process, I examine Spanish-language media effects on state legislator-constituent issue salience agreement, the dependent variable. I operationalize state legislator-constituent issue salience agreement as the degree to which a legislator’s responses to Issue Priority Question #1 matched the responses to Issue Priority Question #2. Thus, I estimate the level of agreement between legislators’ policy issue priorities and those of their districts by examining the top-ranked district and legislative policy issue priorities. These policy issues are reported in columns 1 and 2 of Table 2. I code top issue priority agreement—the measure of issue salience agreement between legislator preferences and perceived constituent preferences—as a dichotomous (0,1) variable, where 1 = a legislator reporting the same policy issue as the top legislative priority and top district priority, and 0 = a legislator reporting different policy issues as the top legislative and top district priorities. Thus, if the top-ranked response to Issue Priority Question #1 is the same as the top-ranked response to Issue Priority Question #2, I observe state legislator-constituency issue salience agreement—the dependent variable under scrutiny in this study. To operationalize the role of the Spanish-language media environment on agreement, I employ the following independent variables.
The Spanish-Language Media Environment. This paper’s central concern with the role of Spanish-language media in the development of Hispanic issue agendas among state legislators is grounded in the dual notion that the news media play an important role in shaping individuals’ information environment (Prior, 2007) and that the presence of and access to news media are essential to the interpretation of their effects on political phenomena (Mondak, 1995). I hypothesize that three types of media directly and independently affect the likelihood of state legislator-constituency issue priority agreement. To test the independent effects of the Spanish-language media environment, I operationalize the media environment as the number of Spanish-language print, Spanish-language radio, and Spanish-language TV outlets in a state legislator’s district. These are ascertained by using geographic identifiers to match the locations of the Spanish-language media outlets reported in the New America Media National Online Directory of Ethnic Media (2010), with the state legislative districts corresponding to the legislator respondents to the MPPS so as to create a virtual Spanish-language media environment for each state legislator. The average state legislator’s Spanish-language media environment consists of five Spanish-language newspapers, five (4.9) radio stations, and two (1.6) television stations.
Hispanic Legislator. Drawing from my postulation of the Spanish-language media acting as an informational link between state legislators and Hispanic constituents, I argue that descriptive Hispanic representation, Hispanic Legislator, is an important independent predictor of the relationship between legislators and Latino constituencies. Recalling that representation of largely Hispanic constituencies is a key characteristic of the sampling frame of the MPPS, the survey-based empirical work presented here is grounded in the argument that the presence of Latinos in state legislatures leads to greater welfare benefits at the state level (Preuhs, 2007), and I situate this analysis in the debate around whether descriptive representation produces better substantive representation for minorities (Mansbridge, 2000; Preuhs, 2006; Gay, 2007). Descriptively Hispanic state legislators account for 71% of MPPS survey respondents. Hispanic Legislator is coded dichotomously (1 = Hispanic, 0 = non-Hispanic).
Conditional Effects Variables. To test for the effects of descriptive Hispanic representation on issue priority agreement when conditioned by the different Spanish-language media environment indicators, I construct multiplicative interaction terms. Treating the number of Spanish-Language Print, Spanish-Language Radio, and Spanish-Language TV as modifying variables of the relationship between Hispanic Legislator and issue priority agreement yields the variables Hispanic Legislator X Spanish-Language Print, Hispanic Legislator X Spanish-Language Radio, and Hispanic Legislator X Spanish-Language TV.
Frequency of Spanish-Language Media Use. In addition to their independent and conditional effects on issue agreement, the effects of Spanish-language media on all aspects of representation and policymaking play out through the amount of Spanish-language media lawmakers use in their representative roles. In Figure 2 I report summary response data for the question in the MPPS that asks state legislators how often they make use of Spanish-language media as tools for communication. Legislators were asked how often they use Spanish-language media outlets (1 = Almost Never, 2 = A Little, 3 = Some, 4 = Often, 5 = Very Often). The variable Frequency of Spanish-Language Media Use is the average frequency of use of the Spanish-language media: appearances on TV, appearances on radio, writing op-ed pieces, issuing newsletters, and issuing press releases in Spanish. From the average frequency of use of the individual Spanish-language media tools I generate a variable accounting for the average of all Spanish-language media use.
Figure 2. Frequency of Spanish-Language Media Use Among State Legislators
Control Variables. I include Frequency of English-Language Media Use, Professionalism, Tenure in the legislature, gender (Male), Democrat, and District Hispanic Population as statistical controls in this analysis. Frequency of English-Language Media Use is scored in the same manner as Frequency of Spanish-Language Media Use—as an average frequency of using all media tools in that language. I report the average use frequencies of individual English-language media tools in Figure 3. I include Frequency of English-Language Media Use as a means of identifying differences in the effects of English- and Spanish-language media on issue priority agreement.
Figure 3. Frequency of English-Language Media Use Among State Legislators
Legislative Professionalism is the Squire Index (2007) professionalism score, which accounts for legislative salaries, benefits, time demands of service, and staff and resources. I expect legislators in more professional legislatures to present more state legislator-constituent issue priority agreement than legislators in less professional legislatures. Informed by prior evidence that the frequency with which legislators employ media tactics can be a function of the resources at their disposal (Cooper, 2002), and that media entrepreneurial legislators will use whatever tools are available to them to influence the legislative agenda (Kedrowski, 1996), I expect legislative Professionalism to facilitate legislators’ overall engagement with their constituents, and to play a positive role in informing issue priority agreement.
Democrat is the legislator’s political party affiliation (1 = Democrat Party member, 0 = not a Democrat). Evidence suggesting that Democrat state legislators are more aggressive than their Republican counterparts in engaging their constituents via Spanish-language political communication (Medina Vidal, Ugues, Bowler, & Donovan, 2009), signals that Democrat state legislators are somewhat closer to their Hispanic constituents’ interests. With this in mind, I have a cautiously optimistic expectation for Democrat legislators to be more likely than Republicans to have issue priority agreement with their constituents. District Hispanic Population is the percent Hispanic population of a legislator’s district, Tenure is the number of years the legislator has served in the state legislature, and Male is the legislator respondent’s gender (1 = male, 0 = female). In a delegate model of representation, we might predict a positive relationship between District Hispanic Population and issue priority agreement. Further, the positive relationship between state Latino populations and descriptive Hispanic representation in state legislatures (Casellas, 2009) leads me to reasonably expect a positive association between District Hispanic Population and issue priority agreement.
Model Specification and Results
With the dependent variable Top Issue Priority Agreement coded dichotomously, I specify a probit regression model of estimates for predictors of state legislator-constituent issue priority agreement with standard errors clustered by state. The results of a probit model specification are reported in Table 3. Recalling the hypothesized positive relationships between the Spanish-language media environment variables—the numbers of Spanish-language print, television, and radio outlets in a legislator’s district—we observe mixed results from the estimation of their independent effects on issue priority agreement. In the base model, the presence of Spanish-Language Radio (p < .10) and Frequency of Spanish-Language Media Use (p < .01) have positive and statistically significant effects on issue priority agreement. In the full model specification, beginning with the presence of Spanish-Language Print media in a legislator’s district, we observe a positive, albeit not statistically significant, effect of this Spanish–language media environment indicator. However, the other media environmental indicators, the presence of Spanish TV-Language and the presence of Spanish-Language Radio, do have statistically significant independent predictive effects on policy agreement between state legislators and perceived constituent priorities. The statistically significant effects of the presence of Spanish-Language TV (p < .05) and Spanish-Language Radio (p < .01), however, suggest the presence of reliable evidence in support of my hypothesized relationships between Spanish-language media presence and legislator-constituent issue priority agreement.
Table 3. Probit Estimates for Predictors of State Legislator—Constituent Issue Priority Agreement
|Variable||Base Model||Full Model|
|Hispanic Legislator X Spanish Print||-0.0107
|Hispanic Legislator X Spanish TV||0.354*
|Hispanic Legislator X Spanish Radio||-0.165*
|Frequency of Spanish-Language Media Use||0.577**
|Frequency of English-Language Media Use||0.0793
|District Hispanic Population (%)||-0.00328
|Professionalism (Squire Index Score)||-4.151*
|Wald chi2 (14)||74.94**||280.36**|
‡ p < .10, * p < .05, ** p < .01; standard errors clustered by state. SE in parentheses.
Source: Media and Public Policy in the States: 2001 Survey.
I find support for Hypothesis H1c, which predicts a positive effect of Spanish-Language Radio presence on legislator-constituent issue priority agreement. However, the statistically significant independent relationship between the Spanish-language media indicator, Spanish TV, and issue priority agreement is negative, and thus opposite my theoretical expectation that more Spanish TV presence contributes to issue priority agreement. Thus, I find no support for Hypothesis H1b.
Figure 4. Predicted Effect of Spanish Radio Presence on Issue Priority Agreement
Using CLARIFY software package tools (Tomz, Wittenberg, & King, 2001) on the probit model specification, I estimate the predicted effects (probabilities) of the two statistically significant Spanish–language media environment predictors of issue priority agreement, Spanish-Language Radio and Spanish-Language TV. To interpret the predicted effects of Spanish-Language Radio presence on top issue priority agreement, I offer Figure 4, which illustrates the probability of issue priority agreement increasing as the number of Spanish-Language Radio outlets available to state legislators increases. The solid black line illustrates the predicted probabilities of issue priority agreement with the Spanish-Language Radio condition for a legislator in the full sample of legislators with a 95% confidence interval represented by the spikes. The red dashed line illustrates the predicted effect of Spanish-Language Radio presence for a Latino legislator only, and the blue dotted line illustrates the same for a non-Latino legislator. The strength of the positive effect of the number of Spanish-Language Radio outlets for all legislators, which goes from about a 20% probability of issue priority agreement at two Spanish-Language Radio outlets to about an 85% probability of issue priority agreement at 12 Spanish-Language Radio outlets, tapers off significantly when the number of Spanish-Language Radio outlets goes above 12 outlets. Considering effects of Spanish Radio presence on the probability of issue priority agreement among Latino and non-Latino legislators separately reveals that Spanish-Language Radio presence is, on the whole, a stronger predictor of issue priority agreement for Latino legislators, which provides evidence to support my expectation in Hypothesis H2c.
Figure 5. Predicted Effect of Spanish Television Presence on Issue Priority Agreement
Recalling my expectation set forth in Hypothesis H1bof a positive effect of Spanish-Language TV presence on issue priority agreement, I find that the number of Spanish-Language TV outlets does have a statistically significant effect on agreement, but that this effect is negative. In Figure 5, an illustration of the predicted effects of Spanish-Language TV presence on the probability of issue priority agreement, we see this negative effect at play for a legislator in the partial Latino sample and for a legislator in the sample of non-Latino legislators. The strongest effect of Spanish-Language TV presence on the likelihood of issue priority agreement between legislators and constituents is when there is one Spanish-Language TV outlet in a legislator’s media environment. Among legislators with one available Spanish-Language TV outlet, there is a 40 percent probability that their top legislative priority is the same as the policy issue that is most important to their district’s constituents. The addition of a second, third, fourth, and fifth Spanish-Language TV outlet to the media environment, however, pulls this probability closer to a zero probability, or a null effect of Spanish-Language TV presence on issue priority agreement. As with the effects of Spanish-Language Radio presence on the probability of top issue priority agreement, the predicted effect of Spanish-Language TV presence on agreement is generally higher for a legislator in the Latino sample than for one in the non-Latino sample.
Figure 6. Predicted Effect of Spanish-Language Media Use on Issue Priority Agreement
While a media environment that includes Spanish-language media is essential to the effects that Spanish-language media can have on politics, I also allow space in this analysis for individual legislator behavior to play a role in informing our understanding of the Spanish-language media’s effects on legislator-constituent issue priority agreement. In the full model reported in Table 3 we observe Frequency of Spanish-Language Media Use having a positive and statistically significant effect (p < .01) on issue priority agreement, suggesting evidence in support of my prediction in Hypothesis H3. As a measure of the average use frequency of five types of Spanish-language media tools (Figure 2), an increase in Frequency of Spanish-Language Media Use predicts a higher probability of issue priority agreement. In Figure 6 I illustrate the probability of issue priority agreement when legislators never use Spanish-language media tools and when they use them often. The black line (with spikes indicating the 95 percent confidence band) illustrates the probability of issue priority agreement moving from about 10% when all legislators never use Spanish-language media tools to about an 80% probability of issue priority agreement when all legislators use these tools often. For a Latino legislator who reports not using Spanish-language media tools, the probability that her top issue priority matches that of her district’s constituents is around 20% , much higher than that of a non-Latino counterpart. This pattern—or gap between the Latino sample and non-Latino sample—continues as average frequency of Spanish-language media use increases to the high frequency “often” category. For a legislator in the Latino sample who often makes use of Spanish-language media tools, the chance that she also achieves issue priority agreement with her constituents is around 90%, compared to only around 45% for a non-Latino counterpart. Building on our understanding that Hispanic state legislators make more use of the Spanish-language media (Figure 2), the evidence illustrated in Figure 6 of a strong and positive predicted effect of Frequency of Spanish-Language Media Use on issue priority agreement suggests that the effects of legislators’ engagement with the media are different when legislators are Hispanic.
Figure 7. Predicted Effect of Professionalism on Issue Priority Agreement
I include legislative Professionalism, as an important statistical control in the probit model of predictors of legislator-constituent issue priority agreement (Squire, 2007). With the expectation that more professional legislatures facilitate issue priority agreement more consistently than non-professional legislatures, I anticipated the independent effect of legislative Professionalism on agreement to be positive. Instead, Professionalism in the multivariate probit model of issue priority agreement (Table 3) has a negative and statistically significant (p<.05) effect on agreement. The independent predicted effects of Professionalism on issue priority agreement evident in Figure 7 illustrate this negative association. The 70% probability that a legislator in the least professional legislature in the sample (New Hampshire) achieves issue priority agreement is nearly 10 times greater than the probability of agreement for a legislator in the most professional legislature (California). Finally, and also contrary to my expectation, the probit model reveals a Democrat legislator to be less likely (p < .10) than a GOP counterpart to exhibit issue priority agreement.
Figure 8. Marginal Effects of Hispanic Leg. on Agreement As Spanish Radio Changes
Dependent Variable: Issue Priority Management
Turning to the effects of the Spanish-language media environment on issue priority agreement when conditioned by whether a legislator is Hispanic, I construct multiplicative interaction terms—Hispanic Legislator X Spanish-Language Print, Hispanic Legislator X Spanish-Language Radio, and Hispanic Legislator X Spanish-Language TV—of the different Spanish-language media environment indicators (Spanish-Language Print, Spanish-Language Radio, and Spanish-Language TV) and Hispanic Legislator and, as we observe with the independent effects, the results are mixed. Without a statistically significant finding for the effects of Spanish-Language Print media presence on issue priority agreement conditioned by descriptive Hispanic representation, we focus our attention on the conditional effects of Spanish-Language Radio and Spanish-Language TV on agreement. In Figure 8 I illustrate how being a Hispanic Legislator (Hispanic = 1, Non-Hispanic = 0, mean value = .71) affects the probability of issue priority agreement as Spanish-Language Radio presence in a legislator’s district changes. We observe that the descriptive “Hispanicness” of a state legislator modestly decreases the probability of issue priority agreement, and that this effect becomes negative when the number of Spanish-Language Radio outlets is greater than seven.
Figure 9. Marginal Effect of Hispanic Leg. on Policy Agreement As Spanish TV Changes
Dependent Variable: Issue Priority Agreement
Figure 9 illustrates the marginal effect of a legislator’s descriptive “Hispanicness,” Hispanic Legislator, on legislator-constituent issue priority agreement as the presence of Spanish-Language TV changes. Here we observe how a single unit increase in Hispanic Legislator from its mean value of .71 (Hispanic = 1, Non-Hispanic = 0) affects the likelihood that legislators share the same top issue priority as their constituents across the different levels of Spanish-Language TV presence in the legislator’s district. Like the marginal effects of Hispanic Legislator on issue priority agreement in the Spanish-Language Radio environment, the marginal effect of “Hispanicness” on agreement with changes in the Spanish-Language TV environment decreases as Spanish-Language TV presence increases. However, these marginal effects become negative with an even less-robust Spanish-language TV environment, when the number of Spanish-Language TV outlets is two or greater. Still, I find support for the conditional effects hypothesis, H2b, and evidence that Spanish-Language TV presence affects the relationship between descriptive Hispanic representation and issue policy agreement.
Discussion and Conclusion
Understanding Legislator-Constituent Relationships Through the Spanish-Language Media
As a study of legislator-constituent issue priority agreement, this analysis informs our understanding of Spanish-language media’s role in shaping the interests and preferences of state legislators and their constituents. Beyond exploring the relationships among the state legislators’ policy preferences, constituent preferences, and the media, this paper also contributes to our understanding of early-stage Hispanic policy agenda development in the states. Specifically, the evidence presented here suggests that the policy issues U.S. state legislators and their Latino constituents deem important are well within the “mainstream” of public opinion. With education, healthcare, jobs, the economy, and immigration policy at the top of legislators’ policy priority lists, and their perceptions of Hispanic constituents’ priorities—as reported in the MPPS—we can begin to envision an agenda of important issues for U.S. Hispanics.
The empirical findings I present here reveal that Spanish-language radio and television outlets play a significant role in driving agreement between lawmakers’ legislative priorities and the policy issue preferences of their constituents. We discovered that the likelihood of issue priority agreement increases when more Spanish-language radio stations are available to legislators and their constituents. Having seen Spanish-language radio play a critical role in mobilizing Hispanics toward political protests of proposed reforms to immigration policy (Félix, González, & Ramirez, 2009; Barreto, Manzano, & Rim, 2009), we can use this new understanding of Spanish-language radio’s effects on driving issue priority agreement to suggest that state lawmakers might share the views of the Latino public. Further, given that Hispanic and non-Hispanic legislators alike use Spanish-language media tools—including Spanish-language radio—we might begin to develop some expectations that state lawmakers could be similarly mobilized by Spanish-language radio to take action on an issue like immigration policy reform and other issues important to potential Hispanic voters. The finding that the presence of Spanish-language television has a strong independent effect on issue priority agreement between state lawmakers and their constituents only at low levels of television presence is less encouraging. Further, the null finding of print media effects in the statistical models suggests evidence of the general decline of print media influence. This presents an interesting puzzle worthy of further inquiry given that since 1990 the most dramatic increase in the presence of Spanish-language media in the United States has been among Spanish-language newspapers. From 1990 to 2010 there was a nearly ten-fold increase in the number of these publications (New America Media, 2010). The fact that Spanish-language print media presence has grown is quite impressive given that it took place in spite of the economic crisis that began in 2008 and led to a significant number of newspaper organizations closing or consolidating their operations. Thus, this set of distinct effects among different Spanish-language media remind us that because of the unique qualities of these media, their effects should not be compared wholesale (Graber, 1990).
Beyond identifying the independent effects of Spanish-language media presence on issue priority agreement, I find evidence suggesting that the degree to which state legislators use all Spanish-language media tools is a good predictor of coherence between their top policy preferences and what they perceive to be the most important issues facing their constituents. I find that legislators who use the Spanish-language media often are nearly four times more likely to experience issue priority agreement. This identification of a strong relationship between Spanish-language media use and issue priority agreement suggests that the more state lawmakers use Spanish-language media tools, the more they seem to be in touch with their constituents’ policy concerns. Looking only at Hispanic state legislators, the evidence of a strong effect of Spanish-language media use and issue priority agreement suggests that Latino state legislators may be using the Spanish-language media as a proxy for Latino public opinion in a manner similar to legislators substituting news media reporting of public opinion as true public opinion as described by Herbst (1998). This relationship between Spanish-language media use and issue priority agreement also contributes to the view that Spanish-language media serve as an important informational link between lawmakers and their constituents.
In treating the Spanish-language media environment as a feature of the information environment that conditions the effect of descriptive Hispanic representation on issue priority agreement, I find that the presence of Spanish-language radio and Spanish-language television does, in fact, have an intervening effect on issue priority agreement. However, the marginal effect of descriptive Hispanic representation on the likelihood of issue priority agreement is positive only at lower levels of Spanish-language radio and Spanish-language television presence in legislators’ districts.
Finally, although outside the framework of the Spanish-language media’s independent and conditional effects on issue priority agreement, my discovery that legislative professionalism suppresses the likelihood of policy issue agreement contributes to our understanding of Hispanic representation in the U.S. states. Research about institutional design in the states playing an important role in predicting levels of Hispanic descriptive representation in the statehouses suggests that the Arizona and California legislatures’ designs are most conducive to achieving descriptive representation for Hispanics, while the New York state legislature is among the least conducive (Casellas, 2009). As MPPS survey data from 19 different states show, an important institutional characteristic of state legislators, legislative professionalism, plays a significant role predicting an important aspect of substantive Latino representation—policy issue agreement among Latino lawmakers and their largely Latino constituents. Whereas Casellas (2009) identifies the California and Arizona legislatures as most similar in their favorability to Hispanic descriptive representation, I identify these states—because of their very different levels of legislative professionalism—as potentially very different in the level of Hispanic substantive representation they provide through issue priority agreement. If we were to use only institutional arrangements to predict Hispanic substantive representation, the effects of professionalism on issue priority agreement I identify here actually predict New York and California as less likely than Arizona to yield issue priority agreement and, thus, meaningful substantive policy representation for Hispanics. While I do not argue here that the institutional characteristics of state legislatures are unreliable predictors of substantive representation, this finding suggests the area is still fertile ground for studies of Latino representation in U.S. state legislatures.
While indicative of Spanish-language media’s significant role in predicting agreement among state lawmakers and their constituents as to what policy issues are most important, the findings herein suggest that we are still at an early stage of understanding the policy preferences of state legislators—Latino and non-Latino alike—and of the impact that Spanish-language media have on the development of state legislative agendas. This area of investigation is fertile ground for more in-depth analysis of these phenomena. To be sure, a more refined study of issue priority agreement would match Hispanic preferences and attitudes gleaned from public opinion data matching the preferences and opinions of state legislators, under the same media environment conditions, and at the same time. To my knowledge, a single study meeting all these criteria does not exist. Here, using available resources, I present findings indicating that we are moving in the direction of a comprehensive understanding of unified policy agendas as envisioned by Hispanic public officials and Hispanic constituencies. My approach in this initial effort to advance an understanding of Hispanic policy agenda development is grounded in the notion that, just as the mainstream media inform policy agendas, the Spanish-language media play an important agenda-setting role for Latino public officials and the Latino public.
The findings presented here raise the question of whether the Spanish-language media are the best venue through which Hispanic lawmakers and the Latino community can come to agreements as to what constitutes a “Hispanic agenda” to promote in the statehouses. To be sure, a deeper analysis of Spanish-language media’s agenda-setting effects on elite- and mass-level agreement regarding salient issues requires investigation into the print and broadcast messages that reach Latinos in Spanish. Another meaningful way of advancing our understanding of Spanish-language media’s agenda-setting effects is via a content analysis of these media’s coverage of statehouse politics. Other questions concerning the direction of the relationship between Spanish-language media, Hispanic constituencies, and state lawmakers, which are commonly of concern to observational media studies, can be addressed through an experimental lens.
Here I present evidence of a significant relationship between the Spanish-language media and the degree to which state lawmakers’ policy issue priorities match those of their largely Latino constituencies. Highlighting Spanish-language media’s function as an agenda setter, I explore the relationships between the Spanish-language media environment and the policy issues state lawmakers deem as important to the Hispanic community. The relationships I identify contribute to an appreciation for Spanish-language media’s potential effects on policymaking at varying levels of access to these media, and for the media role’s as an important social institution linking Hispanic constituents with their political representatives.
 The terms Hispanic and Latino are used interchangeably in this article.[ top ]
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|Dependent Variable||Mean||Std. Dev.||Min.||Max|
|Top Issue Priority Agreement||.42||.49||0 (Disagree)||1 (Agree)|
|Spanish-Language Print X Hispanic||3.5||7.1||0||33|
|Spanish-Language Radio X Hispanic||3.6||5.8||0||22|
|Spanish-Language TV X Hispanic||1.2||2.1||0||10|
|Frequency of Spanish-Language Media Use||2.0||.98||1||4.4|
|Frequency of English-Language Media Use||3.1||.83||1||4.8|
|Professionalism (Squire Score)||.26||.18||.03||.63|
|District Hispanic Population (%)||50.1||23.7||.263||96.4|
Sources: Latino National Survey, New America Media, Media and Public Policy in the States: 2011 Survey.