Univision Networks President Cesar Conde says part of the network's mission is to empower the Latino community.
According to Sanchez, that advocacy approach resembles the way media outlets in Latin Ameica operate. Spanish-language channels have long served as a cultural link for recent immigrants and American-born Latinos alike. Even as more Latinos are born in the U.S. and turn to English sources for news and entertainment, Sanchez said, Spanish-language media has remained a part of the community.
“It served as a community builder, and that is a tenet of Spanish-language media that continues today,” she said.
Univision and Telemundo both reach more than 90 percent of Hispanic households, giving them access to a much-coveted bloc of swing voters. President Barack Obama has appeared on the networks, as have various Republican presidential candidates.
The Republican and Democratic national committees have hired press secretaries to work closely with Spanish-language media to tap into that audience.
About 600,000 Latinos reach voting age each year, and the popularity of Spanish-language media appears to be growing with the community. In the past two years, Univision was the only major American network to grow its average prime-time audience among 18- to 49-year-olds, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.
A reported deal between Univision and Disney to launch an English-language channel targeting Hispanics could broaden the network’s reach to non-Spanish speakers in the community. Univision’s Conde declined to comment on the deal, calling it a rumor.
Despite rapid population growth, Latinos are underrepresented in the electorate. An estimated 8 million who could vote this year are not registered to do so, according to Latino Decisions, which tracks the community.
Voting advocates say Hispanic media present a way to reach those individuals who are not politically engaged.
“You’re reaching an audience that isn’t picking up the morning paper or heading home to watch the news,” said Maria Teresa Kumar, executive director of Voto Latino, a voter advocacy group.
Democrats have the advantage as more Latinos register to vote, according to historical voting patterns. Pew Hispanic Center Associate Director Mark Hugo Lopez said Hispanic citizens are twice as likely to register as Democrats than as Republicans.
Univision and Telemundo have been increasingly careful not to let the community’s leanings skew its coverage. Univision operates a company PAC that gives more to Democrats than Republicans, but Conde said the company is deliberately neutral in its programming.
The networks do face a challenge in remaining objective on immigration, an issue that directly affects many of their viewers and staff.
Some leading television and radio personalities have become immigration activists. Los Angeles radio personality Eddie “El Piolín” Sotelo led a letter-writing campaign to Congress on immigration reform in 2007, delivering more than 1 million signatures to Capitol Hill.
The networks have tried to maintain more balance. This week, Univision’s popular Sunday morning talk show, “Al Punto,” featured Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County sheriff who backs Arizona’s strict immigration enforcement law.