Candidates love the ‘ethnic food’ photo op, but there are better ways to reach nonwhite voters

“It sends the signal that your culture, your community, your food, is American too,” Ramakrishnan said. “It suggests that immigrants don’t need to assimilate, that the candidate is comfortable with the prospect of a multicultural nation.”

And research shows these gestures do help garner votes, said Rudy Alamillo, assistant professor of political science at Western Washington University.

In an analysis of 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s appeal among Latino voters, Alamillo and his coauthor Loren Collingwood found that Bush’s identity-based strategy was one of the most influential factors. Cross-racial mobilizations — things like speaking Spanish, emphasizing that he has a Mexican American wife, and commercials depicting Bush eating Mexican food — were a more powerful factor than even party identification or ideology.