Monday, September 12, 2016

Journalistic Blind Spots

It is one of the least understood paradoxes of contemporary times: As our nation is experiencing the most dramatic demographic transformation in history, Americans are becoming less familiar with members of their diverse communities.  Part of the explanation for this trend, sociologists tell us, is that our nation’s schools, churches, residential communities and social groups are becoming more racially segregated.  This may not come as a surprise since people generally spend more time with others that share something in common, including  race or ethnicity, economic standing, religious or political beliefs, or  general lifestyles.   What is perhaps less understood, however, is the extent to which our nation’s journalists and media contribute to this increasing segregation of our communities. For various reasons, I believe that the role of media segregation deserves our collective attention.
Journalistic blind spots are common practices by media professionals that portray communities of color through a distorted lens – as unfavorable, less visible or perhaps insignificant – practices that reinforce stereotypes and continued segregation amidst continued growth and diversity. Following are a few observations from my past years in evaluating mass media that illustrate my concerns. While these observations are based primarily on media trends in Texas and the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area, it is likely that geographic areas throughout the U.S. have had similar experiences. 
·       Anointing of Ethnic Leaders: Have you ever wondered why journalists often use the terms “Black leader” or “Latino leader” in news stories, but are careful to avoid the use of the term “white leader”?  Whether deserved or not, the practice tends to elevate the importance of the opinions expressed by these “leaders,” which may or may not represent their communities. Journalists are hard-pressed to explain this practice.
·       Biased Political Coverage:  News sources are not always objective in their coverage of political candidates. In a recent mayoral election, for example, a Latino candidate’s electability was an ongoing topic of local news stories, describing the candidate as having “no chance of winning” against the incumbent white candidate. The curious placement of a story about the Latino candidate next to the obituary section of the newspaper reinforced the news bias even further.  And in yet another political story discussing Latino support for Donald Trump in Texas, the reporter chose to discuss the only poll that showed the highest support for candidate Trump, while acknowledging the substandard quality of this poll’s methodology and overlooking more credible polls that placed Latino support for Trump at a much lower level. Whether intentional or not, these practices inject unnecessary bias in news stories that describe the Latino political campaigns and voter sentiments.
·       The Usual Suspects: The sentiments of people of color, especially local ones, are often invisible in news stories or op-ed sections. It is not for a lack of opinions or an absence of experts since there are many people of color that are able to articulate their points of view on a variety of topics. Instead, journalists often take the path of least resistance and utilize the “usual suspects” – that is, the same academics, business or civic members – which discourages a diversity of ideas. To further influence public sentiment on a controversial issue, the editorial staff of news organizations will offer their own point of view. For example, recent local news coverage about the possible loss of ABA accreditation for the UNT Dallas School of Law has been largely negative, while ignoring local community sentiments that are supportive of the law school. Communities of color, in particular, are in dire need of a more affordable legal education and more Black and Latino attorneys to serve their needs. The law school needs more, not less, advocacy on this issue.  The practice of selecting the “usual suspects” may be convenient but does not contribute to a diversity of ideas – something that can be remedied by expanding the pool of the usual suspects.
·       Predictable News Coverage: Past studies of mass media content coverage show that the majority of news coverage about Latinos has been concentrated in just four areas:  crime, immigration, poverty, and under-achievement. Similarly, news coverage of African Americans is often saturated with stories about racial profiling and police relations, criminal investigations of high profile politicians and celebrities, and school-related problems. With this constant diet of negative news stories about Blacks and Latinos, is it any wonder that residential communities are becoming more racially segregated?  These negative portrayals have impacted the decisions by supermarket chains and other businesses to serve these communities, which are perceived as having little economic potential – leading the Dallas City Council to offer a $1 million incentive to encourage business development in these communities. Such negative news stories, however, often tell an incomplete story about communities of color.
·       The Curious Absence of Commerce: It is a rare day indeed that journalists will cover a topic that relates to the business or economic vitality of communities of color – almost as if it does not exit.  This should not be so difficult in a metro area where minority-owned businesses contribute significantly to the area’s economy. In the most recent Survey of Business Owners, the Census Bureau tells us that in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metro area, there were 80,994 Black, 117,592 Hispanic and 52,456 Asian business owners with 2012 sales of $37 billion. In addition, the aggregate household income (or crude measure of buying power) for Black, Latino and Asian consumers totals to $63.3 billion – or 31 percent of the metro’s total buying power of $204 billion. Despite the large presence of minority-owned businesses and surveys that document the consumer behavior and buying power of multicultural consumers, business journalists seem to find it more rewarding to cover ethnic celebrations, food, and occasional problems at ethnic chambers of commerce. Clearly, there is significant room for improvement in the business section of news media.
·       Segregated media: The failure of mainstream media to address the information needs of diverse communities has fueled the growth of ethnic media, which often provides more relevant content to its audiences. However, this trend has further segregated our communities as mainstream journalists and media become increasingly comfortable with the notion that ethnic media are best suited to handle news about ethnic communities. Segregated media, unfortunately, further decreases the likelihood that community residents will become familiar with the lifestyles and achievements of other members of their communities, especially in areas like economics, civic and political participation, educational attainment, technology, scientific innovations, and religion.

Of course, the media industry is only one of many factors that contribute to the increasing segregation of our communities. Nonetheless, journalists and media executives need to be held accountable for the role that their media products play in creating and reinforcing the negative stereotypes and unbalanced portrayals of communities of color.  Hiring more Black and Latino journalists, while important, is not sufficient as long as the final word on news content remains in the hands of media executives who are indifferent to these blind spots.  We will know when we have achieved some measure of success when mainstream media, in particular, begins to include more balanced news content about communities of color, expands the diversity of views by local opinion writers or experts, and utilizes more credible opinion polls of our communities. By eliminating these blind spots, media executives will likely expand the diversity of ideas in news reports, include more balanced portrayals of communities of color, and perhaps become more relevant to their diverse news audiences.

Friday, August 19, 2016

UNT Dallas School of Law: A Work in Progress

It was disturbing to learn that the UNT Dallas School of Law is in danger of not receiving accreditation from the American Bar Association. This is not just bad news for the school, but also for the many students who have studied there expecting to finish their legal education from an accredited law school. The ABA committee cited several reasons for their decision

  • Too many students are being admitted that are struggling in school and being placed in academic probation, being dismissed or simply dropping out
  • No study has been conducted to assess the validity of the holistic admissions process used by the school, which considers a range of factors like LSAT scores, undergraduate GPA and courses taken, work experience, and various other life experiences.
  • Financial projections based on the potential demand for educating part-time students were not supported by any marketing study to assess demand for part-time education. 

The picture that emerges is that UNT was taking risks in their admissions decisions and not conducting the needed research to evaluate the effectiveness of their holistic admissions model.  On the positive side, the ABA committee was impressed with the school’s quality of teaching, student engagement, its library and technology resources, and the substantial opportunities for students to participate in pro-bono legal services.
There are many other reasons, however, to suggest that the law school is worthy of more praise and recognition for its bold initiative to provide an affordable legal education for under-represented groups. First and foremost, we should not overlook the fact that UNT Dallas College of Law is the only public law school in North Texas, and its tuition of $15,133 is the lowest of any law school in Texas.  In today’s job market, many law school graduates are finding it difficult to obtain a job that allows them to pay the student loans that they acquired to finance their legal education. An affordable legal education makes a lot of sense these days, and the UNT Dallas College of Law is among the few law schools that appear committed to addressing this barrier to a legal education for under-represented groups.

Secondly, Texas requires that only graduates of accredited law schools can take the bar exam.  On the face of it, this makes sense although various states do not have this requirement and give this responsibility to the state’s bar association -- including California, Georgia, Alabama, Connecticut, Massachusetts, West Virginia and Tennessee.  Passing the bar exam from a non-ABA accredited law school may not be the ideal career decision, but may be a viable choice for the many students that are locked out of ABA-accredited law schools due to sky-rocketing tuition fees and rigid entrance requirements. It would seem that passing the bar exam should be the ultimate rite of passage for entering the legal profession, but it is not. UNT Dallas College of Law aspires to become an ABA-accredited law school so that its graduates will be able to take the bar exam; however, this may not happen under current Texas law.   The school has apparently sacrificed its ability to become ABA accredited by deliberately accepting students with lower LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs, and providing them a chance to become an attorney. Should the school be punished for this or rewarded?

As part of the group of psychologists that specialize in the design and evaluation of educational measurement tests, I have often written about the shortcomings of college admissions tests like the SAT or LSAT, as well as state competency tests, in determining the educational choices for racial-ethnic groups.  Such tests are but one measure of an individual’s likely academic performance, but often fall short in their ability to predict the academic performance of African Americans, Latinos and women.  More importantly, the LSAT tells us little about an individual’s success as a lawyer.

Thirdly, there is little justification in my opinion for maintaining a legal education system where the majority of its graduates are white.  Using data from the most recent demographic report by the American Bar Association, the chart on the left shows that 84 percent of attorneys in Dallas County are white, although they represent just 27 percent of the County’s population.  By contrast, 43 percent of Dallas County’s population is Latino, while only 4.9 percent of all attorneys are Latino. Similarly, African Americans represent 22.3 percent of the Dallas County population, while they represent just 5.3 percent of Dallas County attorneys

In more practical terms, these disparities mean that:
  • There is one white attorney for every 52 whites in Dallas County
  • There is one African American attorney for every 634 African Americans in Dallas County
  • There is one Latino attorney for every 1,441  Latino residents in Dallas County, and
  • There is one other race-ethnic attorney for every 235 other race-ethnic residents in Dallas County.
Of course, we should not assume that white attorneys only serve whites, that African American attorneys only serve African Americans, or that Latino attorneys only serve Latinos – but that is often the case in the legal profession. What is truly surprising is that too many law schools have become complacent with these disparities and appear unwilling to change their models of legal education to improve access to under-represented groups like African Americans and Latinos.

Thus, to the extent that the race-ethnicity of Dallas County attorneys matters in the delivery of legal services, it seems clear that non-white residents of Dallas County are significantly under-served. But does the race-ethnicity of attorneys really matter? Yes it does. In one recent study of Latino legal needs in Dallas County, we learned that two-thirds of Latinos desired an attorney that spoke Spanish or had staff that communicated in Spanish. This finding is not particularly new as it is commonly known that trust, empathy and rapport are essential skills in medicine, psychology and other professions where communicative skills are important.

An additional reality is that the majority of attorneys in Dallas County that serve Latino legal needs have traditionally focused their practice on issues related to immigration, personal injury, DWI or criminal cases.  Few attorneys target Latinos with legal services designed to protect their assets, such as wills and estate planning, bankruptcies or home foreclosures, intellectual property, and business contracts.   In the long run, this imbalance in the availability of legal services and attorneys makes communities of color more vulnerable to the many adverse actions that impact their quality of life.  

I genuinely believe that the UNT Dallas College of Law is an admirable and innovative concept with the potential to radically change the composition of the legal profession. The ABA committee should allow the school’s third-year students to take the bar exam as a final validation that they were able to master this important rite of passage into the legal profession – despite their academic and personal struggles.  Anyone that has been through an advanced education knows that it is always a struggle to balance your personal life with the academic challenges in pursuing a professional education
In addressing the issue of failure, Zig Zigler cautioned us to “remember that failure is an event, not a person.”  Struggling, failing and perseverance have been the formula for success of many of today’s leaders. Ironically, the review by the ABA committee focused on the struggles that the UNT Dallas College of Law is experiencing in fulfilling its mission, and in the same action is eliminating the only potential evidence that the school’s model is working by not allowing the school’s first cohort of graduates to take the bar exam.  Perhaps Michael Jordan best described the often forgotten link between failure and success:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career.  I’ve lost almost 300 games.  Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.  I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.”

We should not fear the possibility that many of these students may actually pass the bar exam.  In the movie Stand and Deliver, Jaime Escalante proved to the College Board and many other skeptics that low-income Latino high school students have the capacity to excel in calculus given the right teaching approach and motivation.  Perhaps our nation’s law schools should take their cue from Mr. Escalante and Michael Jordan, and dare to innovate.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Latino Voter Turnout: Time to Re-fresh Our Thinking

National news headlines this past weekend announced Tim Kaine as Hillary Clinton’s choice for Vice President.  Given the nation’s anticipation of this announcement, It was interesting to see that the major headline of news reports was focused on Tim Kaine’s fluency in Spanish, which he aptly demonstrated to Miami audiences.  

This is not the first time that we have seen a political candidate speak Spanish to win the hearts of Latino voters.  President George W. Bush, for example, used his limited Spanish-speaking skills to engage Latinos in his gubernatorial and presidential elections. When Spanish-speaking skills were lacking,  some politicians have chosen to showcase their Latino family members in their campaigns -- including wives, grandmothers and nephews.  The assumption, of course, is that Latinos will somehow connect culturally with the political candidate, translating into more votes.  Donald Trump, however, gets the top award for Most Disconnected Political Candidate for his recent tweet showing him eating a taco bowl and saying “I love Hispanics.”  

Tim Kaine, however, is not the typical politician that is reaching out to Latino voters.  Aside from his good Spanish-speaking skills, he seems to have more insight into the Latino culture  -- using humor, personal anecdotes, and underscoring values that are important to Latinos.  In addition, Tim Kaine’s past career included litigating civil rights cases, missionary work in Honduras, and other social involvement in communities.  His political career has been impressive with a track record for winning all of his past competitions for elective office.   Indeed, Tim Kaine appears to be an excellent addition to the Clinton team with considerable potential for engaging Latino voters.

Given the lower voter turnout rates of Latinos in past presidential elections, however, Democrats risk the possibility of losing this election if they continue to rely on the same strategies of past elections to engage the Latino voter. The selection of Tim Kaine is just one element of Clinton’s Latino strategy, and not necessarily the most important one.  Hillary Clinton currently has an impressive advantage over Donald Trump as shown by recent polls of Latino registered voters at the national, statewide, and metro levels (see Table 1 below).  Indeed, Hillary Clinton’s advantage over Donald Trump ranges from 39 to 58 points.

                                                   Table 1
                  Candidate Margins in Recent Latino Voter Polls


Hillary Clinton

Donald Trump

Fox News May 2016 U.S.
Pew Research June 2016 U.S.
Rincon & Associates June 2016 Dallas/Ft. Worth  Metro
Univision Poll July 2016 U.S.
Latino Decisions July 2016 Texas

But some of these polls also show that about one-quarter of Latino registered voters remain undecided about the candidates, may vote for another candidate, or just stay home on election day.   Coupled with the daily changes in the political campaigns  - convention activities, disclosure of DNC emails, endorsements – Democrats cannot afford to get too complacent.

Interestingly, as national polls of the general electorate show Hillary Clinton’s edge over Donald Trump diminishing, the role of the Latino vote will take center stage, especially in the battleground states. There is certainly no shortage of eligible Latino voters as current Census Bureau reports tell us that at least 26 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in the November 2016 election.  Table 2 below shows that 80 percent of these eligible voters were located in just 10 states.  The problem, however, is that only 48 percent of eligible Latino voters actually cast a vote in the 2012 presidential election. Which begs the question:  What magic wand is going to move the Latino voter turnout rate beyond 48 percent? Surely, it would be risky to simply rely on the same campaign strategies of the past.

                                          Table 2
            Estimate of U.S. Latinos Eligible to Vote
                        in November 2016 Election

Latinos Eligible to Vote
New York
New Jersey
New Mexico
Total Eligible
   Source: American Community Survey One-Year Estimates, 2014

The Message to Latinos

The challenge of engaging the millions of eligible Latinos to become registered voters has already received a jump-start from Donald Trump. Judging by reports from California and Georgia, registration of Latino voters is surging as a direct result of the negative campaigning that Donald Trump has directed in past months towards Latinos, immigrants, women, war heroes and the disabled. But more effort will be needed to move the needle beyond the 48 percent turnout rate.  This hardcore segment of Latino non-voters will need a strong message that will remind them about the consequences to families if they decide to sit out the November election. This message or messages will need to be educational and persuasive since non-voters are less likely to know or understand the policies that differentiate the presidential candidates and the consequences to their quality of life.  

Past political campaigns have used several slogans to engage Latinos, such as “Si se puede,” “Su voz es su voto,” and “Juntos se puede.”  Perhaps it is time to go beyond these traditional slogans and engage the talents of advertising agencies to create new slogans that excite Latinos about the importance of participating in the upcoming presidential election.   The new strategy, however, will need to incorporate both an educational component and a persuasive call-to-action component.
Following are some ideas for the educational component of a new non-voter campaign:  
·        Support for a Path to Citizenship: The lives of 12 million undocumented immigrants remain on hold due to the lack of progress on immigration reform. The Clinton-Kaine team supports a path to citizenship for these immigrants, many of whom include women and children that escaped persecution in their countries of origin.
·        Minimum Wage of $15 per hour:  Many workers on minimum wage will benefit by this increase in the minimum wage, especially Latinos who often work for low wages in restaurants, hotels, and construction.  The Clinton/Kaine team supports a $15 per hour minimum wage.
·        Voter ID Laws:  Republicans have tried their best to limit the voting power of Latinos and other groups by pushing voter ID laws with little evidence of voter fraud. Democrats, on the other hand, have been fighting successfully in the courts to eliminate such laws.
·        Supreme Court Appointments: The next president will have the opportunity to appoint one or two Supreme Court justices, which could radically change the laws that influence the quality of life of many Americans. Latinos cannot afford to allow Donald Trump to take this opportunity to appoint justices that will eliminate programs or policies that benefit Latino families.
·        Support for Women’s Rights:  A woman’s right to choose her options for family planning continues to be threatened by Republicans, especially in states like Texas.  Such efforts especially impact lower-income Latinas who often require support and guidance in choosing the right family planning options, and obtain needed exams for breast cancer screening.
·        Support for Free Tuition at Public Colleges:  More Latinos are graduating from public colleges but start their careers with large student debt.  The Clinton/Kaine team is making free tuition at public colleges a top priority of their campaign, but no support by the Trump campaign has been offered in this area.
·        Support for Gun Control:   The absence of tougher background checks has made it too easy for people with bad intentions to purchase weapons that can kill large numbers of people in a few minutes. These weapons threaten the lives of all Americans, especially groups who are often the target of hate crimes such as Latinos, immigrants, African Americans, gay/lesbians, and police officers. Despite the many deaths in the U.S. that have resulted from the use of these weapons, Donald Trump has no plans to change gun control laws. The Clinton/Kaine team will support tougher background checks and limit the sale and distribution of these military-style weapons.
·        Expanding Healthcare for the Uninsured:  Historically, the uninsured rate for Latinos has been among the highest in the U.S.  The Affordable Care Act, known also as Obamacare, has greatly improved access to health insurance for Latinos and other groups who have had difficulty in obtaining affordable healthcare coverage.  The Clinton/Kaine team plans to keep and improve The Affordable Care Act, while the Trump candidate promises to eliminate it.
Creative ideas regarding the persuasive call-to-action component are best handled by talented advertising agencies that develop multiple ideas for slogans that are tested with the target audiences.  “Feel the Bern” is an excellent example of a slogan that resonated well throughout this presidential campaign with many audiences, and there is no reason why similar slogans cannot be created for Hillary Clinton that resonate well with English and Spanish-speaking audiences.

Delivery of the Message

Past efforts to engage and educate Latinos about the importance of their civic participation have included voter registration drives, use of traditional media (i.e., television, radio, newspapers), appearances at community events, endorsements by key Latino leaders or personalities, and sending relevant information to parents by coordinating with schools.  However, a digital revolution is taking place among U.S. Latinos that dramatically expands the ability of political campaigns to engage Latinos. As reported recently by the Pew Research Center,  U.S. Latinos now have nearly comparable access to the Internet compared to whites, and rely greatly on mobile devices to engage with the news, shopping, and communicating with family members.  Following are some suggested steps for enhancing the delivery of these messages to the un-engaged Latino electorate:
·        Focus on the geographic areas where Latino eligible voters are highly concentrated. The American Community Survey provides detailed information regarding the geographic areas that include sizable numbers of Latino eligible voters – at the state, metro, county and city levels.
·        Tim Kaine should continue to communicate in Spanish throughout the campaign since it is useful as one way to establish rapport among Latinos. Not all political candidates, however, have the cultural experience that Kaine has to make the Spanish pitch sound credible.  But remember that the majority of Latino voters are native-born and communicate primarily in English. Both English and Spanish-language messages and media vehicles should be utilized to ensure a balanced delivery of the campaign messages.
·        Maximize the use of social media, a popular form of communication for Latinos.  Latinos are more likely than non-Latinos to access the Internet, use apps, and Facebook through their mobile devices, and often share their information will their networks of friends and family members.  Apps are low in cost compared to traditional media, and have the potential to reach   all segments of Latinos through a mix of attention-grabbing technology.
·        Engage the support of the many businesses and organizations that employ significant numbers of Latinos to provide their employees time off on election day to cast their vote, encourage early voting to avoid long lines on election day, and sponsor transportation to facilitate travel to voting precincts when needed.  Too many blue collar or low-wage workers have restricted work schedules that have contributed to a lower voter turnout.
·        Latino bloggers, radio and television personalities should be more aggressively engaged to discuss the myths and hysteria that the Trump campaign has been promoting. The Clinton campaign, for example, has sponsored some relevant television commercials that focus on the impact that Trump’s insulting statements are likely to have on the nation’s children.  Similar tactics should incorporate Latino adult audiences and the potential impact on their quality of life.

It would be premature to think that these thoughts provide the silver bullet that is needed to ensure that the Latino voter turnout rate surpasses 48 percent in the November presidential election.  However, it is perhaps time to expand our collective thinking about innovative strategies to engage Latinos in the November election this year.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Political leaders often embrace positive satisfaction ratings, but should they?

It should come as no surprise that political leaders enjoy quoting the positive ratings from surveys of the communities that they serve – a sort of badge of honor for their job performance.  Ex-Dallas City Manager A.C. Gonzales is no exception, making reference to a recent citizen satisfaction survey of 1,512 Dallas City residents that showed an overall community that, with some exceptions, appeared quite happy with City services.  Mayor Mike Rawlings has also referenced these positive ratings from these surveys as well. At the national level, Republican nominee Donald Trump recently pointed to positive student satisfaction ratings to counter allegations of fraud in lawsuits against Trump University.  Indeed, positive ratings are like candy to politicians, whether deserved or not.
But how much faith can we place in these satisfaction ratings? In a recent column by Dallas Morning News columnist Robert Wilonsky, he noted the apparent paradox of the City’s continuing high ratings given the multitude of problems that are left unresolved, such as potholes, loose dogs mauling citizens in poor neighborhoods, contracting irregularities, deteriorating air quality, traffic congestion, and a host of other issues.  Wilonsky also pointed out that the survey vendor’s report curiously omitted information about the ages represented by the study respondents.  Indeed, the report tells us nothing about the satisfaction levels across racial-ethnic groups, income groups, age groups or other key demographics – information that would provide more insight on how well the study sample mirrored Dallas’ diverse population. The City of Dallas is now 41 percent Latino, 24 percent black, 3 percent Asian, and 29 percent white – a diverse community of residents that are entitled to have their voices heard in surveys sponsored by their tax dollars.
While City leaders have no problem embracing citizen satisfaction ratings, we should be cautious about embracing the results of satisfaction surveys, especially those that consistently show their sponsors in a positive light. In the case of the City of Dallas, there is reason to believe that these satisfaction ratings could be inflated and a self-serving exercise for City leaders:
  • Past community surveys for the City have shown a pattern of under-representing certain racial-ethnic groups, age groups, non-English speakers, and the lower income  – groups who are more likely to have negative experiences and opinions of City services. Loose dogs and potholes, for example, are more common in poor neighborhoods.  To what extent would the positive ratings diminish if the voices of such residents were properly represented in the survey?
  • Of course, the survey vendor’s quality of work may be spectacular, making it easier to eliminate the competition. However, the most recent City satisfaction report omitted standard demographic information about the 1,512 city residents that completed the survey.  One has no idea if the survey respondents accurately reflected the diversity of this community by race, ethnicity, gender or age. This is information that is considered standard in industry research reports --- information that is commonly used to judge the scientific credibility of the survey findings. Why have City staff allowed the omission of this important information from its report?
  • Given the positive ratings that the City continues to enjoy from these surveys, it is not surprising that the survey company that conducts these surveys has enjoyed a preferred vendor status for many years. While the survey contract is bid competitively, the same out-of-state vendor has been successful in obtaining the contract year after year even though there are various local vendors that are equally qualified to conduct the work.  Are City leaders and staff concerned that a different vendor would change the positive ratings that they enjoy?  
          Community satisfaction ratings provide one measure of the City’s performance in serving a community, but provide an incomplete picture of its actual performance since key groups are often omitted or under-represented in such studies. The fascination of City leaders with these positive ratings and comparisons to other U.S. cities creates the false impression that everything in Dallas is just peachy.  A guided tour of City neighborhoods tells quite a different story.

Clearly, the next City Manager for Dallas, as well as the next Mayor, will have a long list of City-related needs that will require their immediate attention. If the results of citizen satisfaction surveys continue to be used by City leaders and staff as a benchmark of their annual or periodic performance, some changes will be needed to inspire more confidence in the ratings provided by this survey.  First, it is absolutely essential that the public is provided access to a detailed methodology that describes the steps used to conduct the study, including the extent of support in languages other than English.  This is important because many studies confirm that over half of Latino and Asian adults prefer to communicate in their native language, a fact that improves comprehension and survey participation.  Second, the report must provide a detailed demographic profile of the survey respondents – a standard requirement in all research industry studies – and perhaps the only evidence that the random selection of City households resulted in a fair and unbiased representation of the City’s diverse community.  Lastly, to remove the appearance of favoritism in the vendor selection process, City staff should be required to justify the continued selection of one vendor over several years despite the availability of various equally qualified survey vendors.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Latino Leadership Development in Dallas: Some Room for Optimism

Much to their credit, Dallas-area academic, business and civic members have embarked upon an ambitious effort to expand the number of Latino leaders that serve this community. Two of these programs reside at Southern Methodist University with similar goals in mind. Part of the rationale for these programs comes from national studies by the Pew Research Center (2013) which showed that two-thirds of Latinos did not know, when asked, who they believed was the most important Hispanic leader in the U.S.; moreover, three-quarters of Latinos believed that a national Hispanic leader was needed to advance the concerns of the U.S. Hispanic community. This national alarm bell, coupled with dismal Latino participation at the local levels, appeared to describe a leadership vacuum in the Latino community that needed some type of intervention.
Latinos, of course, are not leaderless. U.S. Latinos have a long history as inventors, scientists, medical experts, military heroes, news columnists, entertainers, and politicians --- they are just not very visible because mainstream media sources choose to overlook their achievements except during cultural holidays.  If the story does not involve crime, immigration, under-achievement or poverty, the likelihood of inclusion in mainstream media diminishes even more rapidly.  
For example, anyone who has lived in the Dallas community for a number of years would have little difficulty in recognizing Latinos that have been on the frontlines of many Latino-related issues. Such names as Adelfa Callejo, Hector Flores, Nina Vaca, Rene Martinez, Domingo Garcia, Marcos Ronquillo, Rafael Anchia, Roberto Alonzo, Tom Lazo, Beatrice Martinez, and Edwin Flores are well-known among Dallas-area Latinos and non-Latinos for their past advocacy efforts related to Latino education, healthcare, immigration, voting rights, business development and other areas.  Media reports may label Latinos as “leaders,” “advocates,” or “activists” – depending on the spin desired by media decision makers. Nonetheless, their role in shaping the quality of life for Latinos is undeniable.
As the traditional pool of “leaders” or “advocates” diminishes, it is clear that new blood is needed to address the many decisions that will influence the quality of life for Latinos in the future. The need for new blood is especially important in communities like Dallas/Fort Worth that are experiencing rapid population growth and need decision-makers with new ideas to address the challenges brought by this growth. In this light, Latino leadership programs have assumed a great responsibility and deserve as much support as possible.   
To that end, following are some questions or discussion points that came to mind as I was envisioning the types of skills that these graduates may need to carry the leadership torch into the future:
What knowledge will these graduates have of Latinos that reside in the U.S. and local communities?  For example, a test of knowledge of Latino culture in the U.S. was recently completed by a non-random sample of 400 Latinos and non-Latinos that represented college students and marketing professionals from the private sector.  The test results revealed that both Latinos and non-Latinos had limited knowledge regarding some basic facts about U.S. Latinos. Interestingly, the results also revealed that Latinos did not score much better than non-Latinos on this test. While not a scientific study, the study results suggest that more effort should be devoted towards expanding knowledge about the Latino population – whether at academic institutions or other training vehicles. Moreover, as Latinos continue to assimilate linguistically and culturally, they may also need a refresher course on important elements of the Latino culture.
What position will graduates take on issues that especially impact Latinos?  The position that a leadership graduate takes on key issues like gun control, abortion, criminal justice, voting rights, racial profiling, the environment, public procurement, and immigration will likely define their appeal in Latino and non-Latino communities. Are graduates being trained to avoid a position on controversial issues or will they be taught how to argue persuasively on behalf of Latino constituents?
Are your public speaking skills ready to be tested?  General public speaking skills are undoubtedly a valued asset; however, Latino leaders will be expected on occasion to address both English and Spanish-speaking audiences.  Since the vast majority of U.S. Latinos do not study Spanish formally, it might be a good idea to encourage our future leaders to brush up on their public speaking skills in both languages.
Will graduates be trained to feel comfortable in using the results of research studies?  In one presentation to a city council regarding the results of a citizen satisfaction survey, a councilman opined:  “If I want to know what people in my community think, I will just talk to them.”  Apparently, the councilman did not understand the bias associated with his recommendation in gathering public opinion. Scientific research can provide valuable insights that supplement one’s perspectives and should be part of the training curriculum for these graduates.
Will non-Latinos be provided the opportunity to develop their leadership skills if their jobs or political aspirations include Latino communities?   It seems like a good investment.  There are already enough non-Latinos in leadership positions that lack knowledge and experience with Latino communities. With our increasingly segregated society, the leadership course may provide the right amount of knowledge and perspective needed by non-Latinos who aspire to become advocates for Latino communities.
Will graduates understand how to utilize the power of the media which has the potential to define their reputation and standing in the minds of Latino and non-Latino audiences?  Markets like Dallas/Fort Worth provide a multitude of communications vehicles to reach diverse audiences, and often conduct public opinion polls to monitor key issues or political campaigns. In such an environment, Latinos who aspire to become visible advocates or “leaders” must understand how to fashion their messages correctly, how the journalism world operates, and the audiences that are served by different communications vehicles.
Lastly, will the collective wisdom of past Latino leaders be used as a bridge to the future for the newly trained leaders? It would be a mistake, in my opinion, to believe that “leadership skills” have little or no connection to the past. Past Latino leaders could be helpful in identifying significant people, organizations or historical events that have proved helpful in past Latino initiatives, as well as those that have been less helpful. The new leadership graduates will no doubt have many new ideas of their own, but history should help them avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
Only time will tell us about the long-term benefits of these Latino leadership initiatives.  If they are successful, Latinos will be in a better position to shape their own destiny and become a more visible partner in key decisions that affect their quality of life.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Donald Trump: The New Chicken Little

As the story goes, an object fell from the sky and hit Chicken Little on the head, prompting Chicken Little to panic and create hysteria throughout his town to warn others that the sky was falling. The sky was not falling, of course, but considerable chaos followed before the truth was discovered.

Like Chicken Little, Donald Trump would have everyone believe that the sky is falling – that is, that uncontrolled immigration and border security is threatening America. To protect America from certain doom, Trump is proposing to build a wall that would keep all immigrants out, deport the 12 million undocumented persons in the U.S., and deport citizens that were born to undocumented parents.  Our Chicken Little has succeeded so far in creating considerable hysteria regarding immigration policy as well as support for his proposed remedies. As the following charts illustrate, however, the hysteria is based on a fantasy that contradicts two key facts about immigration trends in the U.S.

Fact 1:  China, not Mexico, is sending the most immigrants to the U.S.

A special report issued by the U.S. Census Bureau analyzed immigration levels for the period 2000 to 2013, shown below, which illustrated some interesting trends.  First, the level of immigrants to the U.S. from Mexico declined significantly from 400,000 to 125,000 during this period.  Secondly, in 2013 there were more immigrants to the U.S. from China (147,000) and India (129,000) than Mexico (125,000).  Clearly, immigration from Mexico has been declining over the years and does not merit the hysteria that is commonly associated with it.

 “China Replaces Mexico as the Top Sending Country for Immigrants to the
United States,” Research Matters, U.S. Census Bureau, May 1, 2015 

Fact 2:  Border apprehensions of Mexicans have fallen dramatically over the past 14 years, and were higher in 2014 for non-Mexicans. 

In their current report on border apprehensions, the Pew Research Center analyzed U.S. border apprehensions since the year 1970 and revealed yet more evidence that “the sky is not falling.” Apprehensions of Mexicans peaked in the year 2000 with an estimated 1.6 million apprehensions, which declined dramatically to 809,000 in 2007 and 229,000 in 2014.  Interestingly, border apprehensions in 2014 for non-Mexicans (257,000) are exceeding Mexican apprehensions. Are border walls and deportations planned for non-Mexicans as well?

“U.S. border apprehensions of Mexicans fall to historic lows,” Jens Manuel Krogstad
and Jeffrey S. Passel, Pew Research Center, December 30, 2014.   

Ratings of the political candidates show that Trump and his supporters are either unaware, uninterested or indifferent to these facts.  News anchors have explained Trump’s popularity “angry voters” who are tired of establishment politicians and an admiration for Trump’s no-holds barred approach.  In my own view, Trump is the Pied Piper of our times who has managed to persuade a substantial segment of likely voters to suspend reality by embracing a fantasy that simply does not exist.  Trump would have us forget that Mexican immigrants:

  • Are frequently the caregivers for the children of middle to higher-income families;
  • Are concentrated in the construction industry that builds our nation’s infrastructure;
  • Have defended the U.S. in past wars through active participation in our armed forces;
  • Have kept our Social Security system solvent because they are not qualified to benefit from the millions of dollars that they contribute annually;
  • Are taking the jobs that most Americans do not want but are nevertheless important to our economy, such as agriculture, construction, restaurants and hotels. 

It is indeed difficult to imagine that Americans would be willing to abandon their mutually beneficial relationship with Mexican immigrants, especially when recognizing that the sky is really not falling when it comes to immigration trends.  Perhaps it is time for the political candidates to start talking about some real problems, like the economy, healthcare, and education. If they must talk about border security, perhaps they should begin a conversation about the other border or ports of entry into the U.S.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Is your multicultural research misleading marketing decisions?

Despite the dramatic growth of multicultural populations in the U.S., many survey companies continue to use outdated assumptions and practices in the design and execution of surveys in communities that are linguistically and culturally diverse. Following are some of the more problematic practices that may warrant your attention, whether you are a survey practitioner or a buyer of survey research.

1. Is your survey team culturally sterile?

If your survey team lacks experience conducting surveys in diverse communities, you may  already be dead on arrival. Since most college courses on survey or marketing research do not address the problems that are likely to occur in culturally-diverse communities, mistakes are very likely to happen.  An experienced multicultural survey team member is needed to assess the study challenges and resources. Really, how else will you know if something goes wrong?

2.  Are you planning to outsource to foreign companies?

So your firm has decided to outsource its Latino or Asian surveys instead of hiring your own bilingual interviewers. Think twice about this.  If you have ever monitored interviews conducted by foreign survey shops, you are likely to discover several issues that impact survey quality: language articulation problems, and a lack of familiarity with U.S. brands, institutions, and geography.  The money that you save by outsourcing will not fix the data quality issues that will emerge from these studies. Better to use an experienced, U.S. based research firm with multilingual capabilities that does not outsource to foreign survey shops.

3. Are you forcing one mode of data collection on survey respondents?

Think about it --  mail surveys require reading and writing ability; phone surveys require one to speak clearly; and online surveys require reading ability and Internet access. Forcing one mode of data collection can exclude important segments of consumers that can bias your survey results. Increasingly, survey organizations are using mixed-mode methods (i.e., combination of mail, phone and online) to remove these recognized limitations, and achieving improved demographic representation and better quality data.

4. English-only surveys make little sense in a multicultural America.

Of course, everyone in America should be able to communicate in English, and most do. But our own experience confirms that two-thirds of Latino adults and 7 in 10 Asians prefer a non-English interview when given a choice. The reason is simple: Latino and Asian adults have large numbers of immigrants who understand their native language better than English – which translates to enhanced comprehension of survey questions,, more valid responses, and improved response rates.  Without bilingual support, the quality of survey data is increasingly suspect in today’s diverse communities.

5. Are you still screening respondents with outdated race-ethnic labels?

Multicultural persons dislike surveys that use outdated or offensive race-ethnic labels that are used to classify them – which can result in the immediate termination of the interview, misclassification of survey respondents, or missing data. Published research by the Pew Research Center and our own experience suggests that it is better to use multiple rather than single labels in a question: that is, “Do you consider yourself Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, Asian or Asian American, white or Anglo American?” Since Latinos and Asians identify more strongly with their country of origin, it is a good idea to record their country of origin or provide a listing of the countries represented by the terms Latino or Asian.  Use of the label Caucasian is often used along with the white label, but should be avoided because the Caucasian category also includes Latinos.

6.  Are your survey respondents consistently skewed towards women?

A common problem is that multicultural males are considerably more reluctant than white males to participate in surveys, which often results in survey data that is overly influenced by female sentiments and behaviors. The imbalance often results from the poor management of interviewers who dedicate less effort to getting males to cooperate. Rather than improve data collection practices that create such imbalances, survey analysts will typically apply post-stratification weights to correct the imbalance even when large imbalances are found – a practice that can distort the survey results.  It is always a good practice to review both un-weighted and weighted survey data to judge the extent of this problem.

7.  Online panels are not the solution for locally-focused multicultural studies.

With high anxiety running throughout the survey industry from the recent FCC settlement of $12 million with the Gallup Organization, many survey companies will likely replace their telephone studies with online panels.  For nationally-focused surveys, online panels may be an adequate solution to reach a cross section of multicultural online consumers. For local markets, however, the number of multicultural panel members is often insufficient to complete a survey with a minimum sample of 400 respondents. Worse yet, the majority of multicultural panel members are the more acculturated, English-speaking, higher income individuals – immigrants are minimal on such panels. Online panel companies will have to do a better job of expanding their participants with multicultural consumers. In the meantime, don’t get your hopes too high.

8.  Translators are definitely not the last word on survey questionnaires.

So your questionnaire has just been translated by a certified translator, and you are confident that you are ready to begin the study of multicultural consumers. After a number of interviews, however, you learn that the survey respondents are having difficulty understanding some of the native language vocabulary being used, and interviewers are having to “translate-on-the-fly” by substituting more familiar wording – a major problem in multicultural studies. It is obvious that the survey team placed undue confidence on the work of the certified translator, and did not conduct a pilot study of the translated questionnaire to check for its comprehension and relevance among the target respondents.  A good pilot study can save you time, money and headaches.

These tips represent only a partial listing of the many ways in which a survey can misrepresent multicultural communities.  Industry recognition of these types of problems is a first step towards their elimination, although survey practitioners are slow to change their preferred ways of collecting data. Raising the standards for multicultural research will perhaps pick up steam once higher education institutions require the study of these issues in their research courses, and buyers of research require higher standards from research vendors.

You can reach Dr. Rincón at

© Rincón & Associates LLC 2015