September 12, 2003

Mexican Americans Annoyed With Recall ‘Taco Poll’

By Elena A. Robles

SAN JOSE — One of California’s most lucrative Mexican fast-food franchises announced a new promotion recently, with the byline of “Who Says You Can’t Buy Votes?”

Claiming that “It’s our way of reminding you to vote on Election Day,” Taco Bell publicized that more than 1,000 of their participating California restaurants would hold a “Recall Election Taco Poll” where purchases of any of three menu items would represent a “vote” for a candidate. The results will be posted on their official web site the day before the Oct. 7 special election.

This “Taco Poll” includes a grilled stuffed burrito representing “the other 133 candidates,” a long list that before the last-minute introduction of the chalupa to represent Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante, also included the state’s second-in-command. The beef crunchy taco and chicken soft taco choices have been assigned to actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Governor Gray Davis, respectively.

Some Mexican Americans are protesting the taco poll’s design. “TB (Taco Bell) doesn’t have a selection that could begin to describe the Lt. Governor’s popularity, but if they did it would have to be “The Whole Enchilada,” complains Maria Nellie Longoria, board member of the famous Chicano theatre company, El Teatro Campesino, or ETC. Bustamante is the grandson of Mexican immigrants.

Longoria has already begun her own campaign to get others to join her in saying, “No Quiero Taco Bell!” No doubt the restaurant chain’s questionable effort at trying to market community activism will appear in future ETC stage vignettes by the politically savvy group.

A spokeswoman for the fast-food chain said that patrons can now “put their vote where their mouth is,” but consumers who do not wish to make a political statement have no choice but to also be counted if a favorite taco choice is part of the promotion.

Taco Bell’s advertising gimmick has targeted the community with English and Spanish-language ads that name Schwarzenegger first, Davis second, and Bustamante, not at all.

The Latino voting block, which polls show favoring Bustamante, is being heavily courted by all the candidates. By relegating the Lt. Governor to the category of ‘other’ and only promoting Schwarzenegger and Davis in advertisements, Taco Bell essentially focuses its marketing money on ascribing the corresponding attributes of “beef” and “hard” to Schwarzenegger (whose name appears first) as well as the “chicken” and “soft” characteristics to Gov. Gray Davis.

The sales promotion is being published in newspapers and is also broadcasted on radio and television. The expensive and widely advertised state campaign will not be subject to contribution limits because it is being marketed as a restaurant promotion with a suspiciously manipulative representation that suggests otherwise.

Intentional or not: guess which candidate gets the better value from this marketing budget?

Moments before the deadline for this newspaper, Taco Bell announced “coming soon” the addition of a fourth voting category—the chalupa—to count “as a vote for Cruz Bustamante.”

The first week of voting results stood at 45 percent for Schwarzenegger’s hard beef taco, 3 percent for Davis, and 43 percent for the others’ burrito. Indexing the fourth Chalupa category to insure “fairness to all candidates” after many days of voting, will surely prove to be a challenge.

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