One of the greatest challenges facing marketing departments and political campaigns today is the inability to discern signals from noise. As a professional market researcher, I see this on a daily basis. Social media listening teams regularly confuse online chatter for real-life trends and this can misinform entire PR and advertising strategies.
Over the past few months and years, several of our clients have noticed the term “Latinx” trending as a new ethnic label to describe Latinos. It has been used by academics, activists, and major companies, including NBC and Marvel, as well as politicians like Senator Elizabeth Warren. We were curious about the appeal of “Latinx” among the country’s 52 million people of Latin American ancestry and decided to test its popularity.
While my colleagues and I are progressive on social issues, as researchers, we have to put aside our personal biases and render advice based on the best available empirical evidence. To examine the acceptance of “Latinx” our firm conducted a nationwide poll of Latinos using a 508-person sample that is demographically representative of Census figures, yielding a ± 5% margin of error with a 95% confidence interval.
We presented our respondents with seven of the most common terms used to describe Latinos and asked them to select the one that best describes them. When it came to “Latinx,” there was near unanimity. Despite its usage by academics and cultural influencers, 98% of Latinos prefer other terms to describe their ethnicity. Only 2% of our respondents said the label accurately describes them, making it the least popular ethnic label among Latinos.
Some have speculated that “Latinx” resonates with women and Latino youth. We found no evidence of this in our study. While Latinos’ preferences for other labels vary by age, the limited appeal of “Latinx” is consistent across generations and genders. Only 3% of 18–34 year-old respondents in our poll selected the term as their preferred ethnic label. This was roughly the same as the 2% of 35–49 year-olds. No respondents over 50 selected the term. In other words, 97% of millennial and Gen-Z Latinos prefer to be called something other than “Latinx.” Meanwhile, only 3% of women and 1% of men selected the term as their preferred ethnic identifier.
Given the very small pool of respondents who indicated a preference for the “Latinx” label, it is difficult to develop a statistically reliable demographic profile of its users. Further research is also needed to ascertain how familiar Latinos are with the term, but in our survey its users tended to be English dominant and US-born.
So, what do Latinos want to be called? Consistent with past studies by Gallup and Pew Research, our poll found a plurality of respondents preferred the term Hispanic (44%) over Latino (24%). Among 18 to 24 year-olds, the preference for Hispanic versus Latino is less pronounced with 38% choosing the former and 27% the latter.
Unlike other surveys though, our study found a smaller percentage of Hispanic want to be described by their country of origin (11%) or a hyphenation of their birthplace plus American (7%). However, we should note that this delta may be due to differences in how our respective studies phrased their questions. Meanwhile, 6% prefer to just be called “American” and 5% “Chicano or Chicana.” Only 1% of respondents indicated that none of the labels provided to them were satisfactory.
Ultimately, Latino identity can be complex. Marketers, journalists, and politicians who are unsure how to address such a diverse population should know that past studies have found that a majority of people do not have a strong preference between the “Latino” and “Hispanic” terms, though, as our own research confirmed, this does vary by age and region.
What is clear from our research is that the appeal of “Latinx” is extremely limited. In fact, it did not register above 3% as a preferred term among any geographic, income, education, or age subgroup we tested. Paradoxically, ad agencies and political campaigns that believe they are being trendy by using the term may be alienating or confusing the voters and consumers with whom they are attempting to build meaningful connections.
It is unclear whether “Latinx” is just a fad or an ethnic label that is here to stay. Given the very small number of people who identify with the term, I would advise my colleagues across the various marketing, human resources, journalism and communication disciplines to avoid using “Latinx” as a descriptor for all Latinos.