As we approach the November elections, Americans are being flooded with the amount of campaign ads flooding TV and social media channels. It is estimated that by Election Day more than $9.7 billion will have been spent on campaign advertising. Between January 6, 2021 and August 7, 2022, 2 million advertisements were broadcast on national television alone.

Unfortunately, the volume of campaign ads can be detrimental to some members of the public due to the heavy focus on immigration and immigrants.

While the United States has been home to an anti-immigrant political climate that has politicized Latino immigrants for several election cycles, the volume of campaign ads focused on enforcing borders appears to have increased this campaign season. America’s Voice reported 700 unique paid ads viewed 52.6 million times on voter social media channels that are anti-immigrant, divisive, and/or racist. Many of these ads generate fear and xenophobia by framing the immigration issue around the “invasion” of immigrants coming to the United States, generating fear and anger.

Primary elections push candidates to mobilize the most ideologically extreme segments of their parties. So it’s no surprise that there has been extensive use of border enforcement and anti-immigrant advertising during the Republican primary. Surprisingly, however, is that the southern border was used as a backdrop for campaign ads during the primary season in non-border states. This included advertisements suggesting that weak borders were responsible for drug and crime in off-border states such as South Carolina and Alabama.

We are interested in how exposure to a large number of anti-immigrant campaign advertisements may affect attitudes of the Hispanic population.

Latin exposure to campaign ads and their impact on Latino families

We rely on the Abriendo Puertas/Unidos US National Latino Family Survey to learn about the prevalence of exposure to anti-immigrant campaign advertising among Latinos. The survey asked respondents whether they had seen any campaign ads on television or online that they felt discriminated against or were intended to make the public think negatively of immigrants. More than a third (36 percent) of Hispanic parents or primary caregivers indicated that they had seen these ads, with a higher percentage of registered voters reporting exposure to these ads.

The National Latino Family Survey asked respondents who had seen these ads how it made them feel. As shown in the figure below, the most common reaction among Latinos in the sample was ‘anger’. This was a particularly common reaction among foreign-born Latinos (+6 percent compared to their US-born counterparts).

The next most common reactions identified by respondents were ‘nervous/anxious’ at 40 percent and ‘fear’ at 27 percent. When you combine these two outcomes, which are often measures included in mental health studies, 67 percent of Hispanics across the country mentioned them. This is consistent with the literature that documents how anti-immigrant policies across the country negatively affect the mental health of immigrants. Anti-immigrant sentiment was expanded on by former President Trump and research found a link between Trump’s racist policies and symptoms of depression and anxiety in Latinos.

In my own work, I’ve found that living in countries with punitive immigration policies affects not only the health of immigrants, but Latinos in general. This helps explain why US-born Latinos, who are not immigrants themselves, are more likely to report anxiety or worry when seeing ads for anti-immigrant campaigns than immigrants in the sample (+7 percent for US-born Latinos compared to the overall sample).

And 29 percent of respondents indicated that seeing these campaign ads made them feel as though “people don’t want me here in the US.” This is an important response to trace, as the social science literature has found that Hispanics often report feelings of lack of belonging or feeling unappreciated in society when they are discriminated against.

Reflecting the disparity in Latino attitudes, 15 percent of the sample of Hispanic parents and primary caregivers said they felt the campaign ad they saw “was spot on for what to do with immigration policy.”

Implications and potential solutions

The rise of these anti-immigrant advertisements indicates a broader acceptance of this extremist political discourse, which unfortunately indicates that the Latino community will continue to be exposed to stressful political images more than ever. This is an issue we should all be concerned about given the effect these ads have on the perception of Latinos that they are welcome in this country. Feeling like you belong in the community and are valued has huge implications for civic engagement. Seeing the evidence that exposure to anti-immigrant campaign advertising influences a sense of belonging is troubling for those interested in Latino civic engagement, regardless of which party they choose to support.

To circumvent the millions of people who are exposed to this, networks must be pressured to ban broadcasting this kind of hate and intimidation.

One way to combat these malicious ads is to prevent them from being shown in the first place. To circumvent the millions of people who are exposed to this, networks must be pressured to ban broadcasting this kind of hate and intimidation. Whether by filing a complaint through the FCC to enforce regulations, or creating social pressure for change, networks are responsible for what they choose to broadcast and must be held accountable.

The implications of a sharp increase in anti-immigrant campaign advertising on the mental health of Latin Americans are huge given the limited access to mental health services that the Hispanic population experienced before and during the pandemic. Hispanics have greater delays in receiving mental health care (twice as likely as white Americans) and are less likely to receive counseling care for depression and anxiety than white Americans. Expanding access to high-quality mental health services to a broader segment of the Hispanic community will help address the long-term challenges that this community faces with regard to mental health.

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