We are still a few months away from this year’s midterm elections, but one of the biggest stories coming out of this cycle is certain to be the power of the Latino voter.

Lessons can be gleaned from both Chris Christie’s big win in New Jersey as well as Ken Cuccinelli’s narrow loss in Virginia last year. Both of those races demonstrate the importance of reaching out to Latino voters in order to win. The first step is gaining an understanding of how to find them across a media landscape that continues to fragment.

Despite the voting patterns we have seen over the past two presidential cycles, Latino voters are very much swing voters. According to numbers released late last year by David Binder Research and Moore Information, one in five Latinos identify as independents. The same poll found a whopping 40 percent of Hispanic voters in Texas and California had no partisan preference for Congress.

The reality is that neither party can claim to have the Latino vote squarely on their side. Look at the past four presidential cycles: Latino voters helped former President George W. Bush win in 2000 and 2004, and then helped President Obama secure two terms in office. Political campaigns need to change the way they campaign in the Latino community by adding messages online, on the radio and on Spanish-language television, rather than relying more heavily on mail or boots on the ground to get their message out.

In order to help political consultants and campaign managers better understand the Hispanic media landscape, C&E asked me to offer an overview of the top media players and platforms you should be familiar with if your campaign wants to communicate well to Latinos this cycle.

OVERVIEW OF MEDIA LANDSCAPE BY INDUSTRY

As in English-language media, television is still king in Hispanic media. Network, spot and cable TV garnered 72.7 percent of the total advertising spend in 2012, according to Ad Age’s 2013 Hispanic Fact Pack. Overall, Hispanic media ad spend increased 11.1 percent from 2011 to 2012, which is a rather healthy growth rate compared to the 3.2 percent of growth reported by Kantar Media for all U.S. measured media in 2012.

TELEVISION

During the 1992 presidential race, the share of Hispanic Adults 18-49 watching Spanish-language television during broadcast prime was 36 percent, according to data from the Nielsen Company. By 2012, when Mitt Romney was the challenger and President Obama the incumbent, that share had risen to 47.

The company driving much of the increase in Spanish-language TV viewership has been Univision Communications, Inc. (full disclosure: I am currently employed by Univision). Univision has expanded from a niche broadcast network into a massive network with a portfolio that reflects a young, dynamic audience and competes with Viacom, News Corp and NBC Universal, among others.

The Univision television portfolio consists of 14 networks, including the Univision Network and UniMás. Univision Network is the company’s flagship. It is also the most-watched Spanish-language broadcast television network in the country reaching approximately 96 percent of U.S. Hispanic television households.

UniMás is the second broadcast television network owned by Univision Communications Inc., which offers more edgy programming geared toward the younger Hispanic viewer. UniMás reaches approximately 89 percent of U.S. Hispanic television households.

In all, Univision Television Group owns or operates 62 local television stations in major U.S. Hispanic markets and Puerto Rico. The company also has a suite of Univision Cable Networks, including Galavisión, the country’s number one watched Spanish-language cable network, as well as key vertical channel offerings that deliver specific Hispanic audiences.

So when looking at Spanish-language media, the numbers demonstrate that Univision is the place to start. There are several other over-the-air Spanish-language broadcast networks to be familiar with, most of which are part of larger media conglomerates. Telemundo, along with its sister cable network MUN2, is part of the NBC Universal family. Telemundo owns or operates 15 stations in major cities in the U.S. and can be found on 47 affiliates across the country. Mundo Fox is the latest broadcast entrant from News Corp, which also owns the sports cable network Fox Deportes.

Azteca América is a broadcast television network in the U.S. that airs shows from Mexican broadcaster Azteca TV S.A. de C.V., which is controlled by billionaire Carlos Slim. Last but not least is Estrella TV, which is owned by Liberman Broadcasting with radio and television clusters in Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas.

Univision Network regularly leads all Spanish-language television demos and day parts, delivering more Hispanic eyeballs than anyone else. If you look at Nielsen’s list of the top 10 Spanish-language shows watched in primetime by Hispanic adults 18-49 during the 2012–2013 season, all of them were on Univision. Each averaged 4,000,000 to 5,000,000 total viewers a night.

RADIO

Radio is the pioneer format of Spanish-language media. It predates Spanish-language television by 10 to 15 years, and like Spanish-language broadcast television, it’s growing faster today than general-market radio. According to Arbitron data, there were 67 Spanish-language radio stations operating in 1980. By the fall of 2012, there were 1,009 Spanish-language stations. While that may sound like a lot, keep in mind that figure represents only 7.5 percent of all commercial radio stations in the U.S.

Spanish-language radio ownership in the U.S. is concentrated in the hands of six companies: Univision, again, is the leader with 69 radio stations across the country, followed by Entravision Communications Group with 43 stations, Liberman Broadcasting with 19, Spanish Broadcasting Systems with 18 stations, Clear Channel with 16, and CBS Spanish with four stations.

According to Hispanic Radio Today 2013, radio’s reach among both English-dominant and Spanish-dominant Hispanic listeners aged 25-54 sits between 95 percent and 98 percent—a slight uptick from 2011. Radio listenership among Hispanic consumers is bigger than other ethnic groups measured by the report. Radio remains a reliable entertainment and information source for Hispanic listeners, regardless of their language preference, country of origin, age, gender, income or listening location.

Nielsen Audio tracks nine Spanish-language formats and eight English-language formats that reflect the listening choices of Hispanics in the United States. Mexican Regional remains the most popular format choice among Hispanics, followed by Spanish Contemporary.

ONLINE

According to the latest report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), there will be 42 million Hispanics online by 2015, which will represent 73 percent of the Hispanic population and 16 percent of the total online users in the United States. Hispanic Internet users are twice as likely to live in households with three or more children and 77 percent more likely to live in households with three or more employed adults.

Although Hispanics are slightly less likely to have Internet access at home compared to the U.S. average, according to Nielsen data (62 percent and 76 percent respectively), Hispanics are leapfrogging other groups in technology adoption and are three times more likely to have Internet access via a mobile device (9 percent versus 3 percent respectively). In fact, Hispanics are 28 percent more likely to own a smartphone than non-Hispanic whites, which partially explains why they outpace all other ethnicities in terms of data services consumption. That, of course, says a lot about the need for campaigns to use digital media to reach Latinos, especially the millennial Hispanic voter.

The growing importance of Latinos in the digital space is further confirmed by the announcements from Google and Facebook, which both recently created special units dedicated to reaching Hispanic consumers online.

For political campaigns, digital targeting has been a key tool over the past couple of cycles, but finding Hispanics based on political leanings, issues and geography has always been a challenge. Univision recently launched an Español Platform, opening up a number of targeting possibilities—geography, political attributes, candidate interest, issue interest—which can be aligned with local digital media. It also allows candidates to use creative in either Spanish or English.

CONSUMPTION HABITS

For political campaigns looking to effectively reach Latino voters it is also critically important to understand the media consumption patterns of Hispanics. Unlike other voters who usually are best reached through news programming, Hispanic voters can be effectively reached through entertainment programs such as telenovelas, which dominate primetime schedules, and sports programs.

There is much talk in the political world about how data is infiltrating political advertising, and how campaigns large and small are using a data-centric approach to plan their TV buying. By layering voter statistics with set-top box data, “firms are sprouting up to serve the fledging market for voter-data-fueled TV targeting,” according to Ad Age.

The expectation is that campaigns will embrace this new form of targeting in 2014 and beyond. I asked the research team at Univision to help me better understand what this all means and they are of the opinion that it’s far from the silver bullet campaigns are seeking, especially when it comes to Hispanics.

Everyone can understand the appeal that set-top box data has (that is, the data that cable or satellite boxes send back to the providers about television tuning), and the idea of addressable advertising has been around for some time now. A note of caution on set-top box data from Ceril Shagrin, executive vice president of audience measurement innovation and analysis at Univision Communications: The data only measure households, but not all sets in those households. These services also exclude all viewing in homes receiving their signal Over the Air (OTA).

Like with other research tools, when it comes to Hispanics, set-top data is even more limited. Hispanic identification is typically drawn from name analysis of MSO billing records—not self-reported. In addition, Spanish-language broadcast stations are highly reliant on viewing from OTA homes. The amount of OTA viewership varies by market and correlates with the amount of OTA homes within each market, but the fact that set-top boxes don’t track them means they are missing many Hispanic viewers and voters.

This overview gives you a good sense of the Hispanic opportunities your candidate can take advantage of during the 2014 election cycle. Get started today by better understanding what the Spanish-language media landscape in your district looks like.

Winning the coveted Hispanic vote will be critical to all campaigns in the upcoming midterm elections and although there is no rule of thumb (every campaign is unique) political strategists I have spoken to recommend starting your outreach with Hispanics early—months before Election Day, not just a few weeks.

When it comes to the percentage of advertising spend, you should be allocating media budgets that at the very least equal the size of the Hispanic population in your district. If you are in a tight race and are counting on the margins to win, a proper investment in winning the Hispanic vote can get you there.

Chiqui Cartagena is vice president of corporate marketing for Univision Communications Inc. and the author of “Latino Boom II: Catch the Biggest Demographic Wave Since the Baby Boom.”