Communicating Locally to Voters: Politicians can Learn from the Lessons of Business
GALA’s executive director, Jim Hollan, recently wrote an opinion/editorial piece on the importance of communicating locally in the upcoming U.S. elections. The piece is provided below as a blog entry.
Overall the global economy may be in chaos but some specialized sectors are experiencing record growth and expansion. Take the localization and language services industry: 85 percent of respondents to a recent Globalization and Localization Association survey have seen work volume increase in the past yearâ€”more than half have had increases of 20 percent or more.
Why? Because multinational companies have gotten the message: Communicating locally is the way to succeed globally. It is no longer a cost; it is a necessity. In fact, 65 percent of multinational enterprises believe localization is either important or very important for achieving higher company revenues.
But what about government? This year’s candidates in the U.S. General Election might learn a thing or two from the small but growing language services industry. As a melting pot, the US is a sampling of the entire world. As such, it is critical that government officials and those wishing to serve the people in government communicate to them locally in the languages that they understand.
That is more evident this year than ever before. Fifteen percent of the population is Hispanic. While Hispanics do not vote in those numbers, one million more Hispanics are registered to vote this year than in years past, and nine million Hispanics are expected to actually vote — up from seven million in 2004. The Asian American vote is also expected to increase this year.
I commend the two top presidential contenders for the localization of their websites into Spanish. Over the summer, both the site of John McCain and that of Barack Obama were only localized on the surface, with the requisite “En Espanol” button on the home page that linked to one general page on the candidates and their issues. But links from the one Spanish page always brought the reader back to an English page, halting communication right there.
Now the sites are localized much more deeply. On both sites, Spanish-language voters can get explanations of the issues in Spanish. On the McCain site, videos of regular Hispanic voters are available in Spanish. The Obama site has even translated its donation page “ one wonders how that localization has translated into donations.
But the sites are only partially localized, missing important areas such as Obama’s tax calculator, which is only available in English, and neither campaign translates any of it volunteer pages, making it more difficult for enthusiastic Hispanic voters to volunteer to persuade Spanish-speaking friends and colleagues. A more important question is why the campaigns have not localized any content into major Asian languages. Older Asian Americans, who became citizens after being long-time residents, very often do not have a deep understanding of English. They are an important voting bloc that is still being ignored.
Fortunately the Help America Vote Act of 2002, and individual state election rules, have made it mandatory to provide voter information pamphlets in minority languages, such as Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese and Mandarin Chinese. But work still remains in the translation and transliteration of ballots.
Communicating to voters in ways they understand is the way to success.