vision 2020

Are Some 2020 Democrats Using Google Translate to Appeal to Spanish-Speaking Voters?

Messaging from Beto O’Rourke’s campaign site in Spanish. Photo:

To max their chances of unseating Trump in 2020, Democrats need to place serious effort, and even more cash, into ensuring Latino turnout is as strong as possible. Hoping to boost the impressive numbers of Latino voters in the 2018 midterms, Democratic candidates are following the template of the Clinton and Obama campaigns by constructing Spanish-language websites.

In theory, the sites are a small gesture of inclusivity to the 29 million eligible Latino voters in the United States who speak Spanish. In praxis, the effort could have used another copy edit, or at least a few more read-throughs by a native speaker of the language. According to an analysis by Politico, every Democratic candidate for president had significant spelling mistakes on their Spanish websites; some of the pages even read as if they were plugged into Google Translate, the tool tourists use to order food abroad, or to determine if someone is making fun of them in French, Pashto, or some 98 other languages. According to Politico:

The website of Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, posted shortly after her Feb. 20 announcement, addresses her mother using a masculine adjective. Sen. Kamala Harris at one point wrote that she had “wasted” her life defending American democracy. And Julián Castro’s website extolls the possibility of building an “América” that works for everyone, seemingly not realizing that he’s making promises about the entire American continent.

Politico also scaled Democratic candidates on their Spanish websites, grading for grammar, use of idioms, and whether or not it felt copy-and-pasted straight from Google Translate. Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, and Jay Inslee led the class with mostly coherent messaging, though Amy Klobuchar’s site is reportedly “identical” to what Google Translate pops out when you type in her campaign material. A spokesperson for the campaign, from the firm Trill Multicultural, told Politico that Klobuchar hired a professional translator. But, as Politico notes, “Spanish readers can tell when the wrong gender is used to refer to your mother.”

Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, and John Delaney all got F’s on the test, for not having a Spanish site, despite Buttigieg being proficient in the language. Beto O’Rourke — who’s from a county that is almost 83 percent Latino — and Bernie Sanders both received incompletes.

Not to place too much import on errors in translation, but the sites’ mistakes are emblematic of a larger issue within the party: Democrats need to expand Latino voter turnout, but aren’t always doing the legwork to ensure that the constituency is voting, and voting Democrat. Consider Florida in 2018, where the GOP’s strong mobilization efforts in Hispanic communities helped Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis win Senate and gubernatorial seats. (A Republican operative in Miami told Politico that Democratic efforts to reach Hispanic voters “sucked” last year.) And as Frederick Vélez III — the former Congressional staffer who caught the errors on Kamala Harris’s site back in January — puts it, the butchered translations represent larger concerns of representation within the professional ranks of the party:

2020 Democrats Botched Their Spanish Translations Online