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Again we ask, When will Az Latino voters flex political muscle?

Latino voters are largely being credited with the reelection of President Barack Obama, who captured 70 percent of the Latino national vote (give or take a percentage point or two based on the final tally). 

Quickly following was consensus political analysis that the Republican Party must have an improved relationship with Latino voters if it expects to win future elections.

Here in Arizona, Obama captured 74 percent of Latino votes, according to CNN exit polls. The disappointment for Latino voting advocates, however, will be that despite an emphasis on early voting and a renewed focus on new voter registrations, Latino turnout in Arizona likely was underwhelming.

The opportunity certainly was there, with 576,000 Latinos registered to vote in Arizona this time around, or a 40 percent increase from 2008, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

In terms of commitment by Latino voters, the percentage of support was there for Obama. But in terms of actual numbers, not even close.

It’s important to note that for many Latinos, this was their first election being registered to vote. Final turnout numbers are still being calculated, with many of the provisional ballots cast in precincts that are heavily Latino. Many Latinos went to the polls only to find their names not on voter rosters, meaning they likely were sent a mail-in ballot and/or recorded as having voted early.

So, what drove – or didn’t drive – Arizona Latino voters to the polls?

Interestingly, in the five days leading up to Tuesday’s election, immigration was listed as the No. 1 issue for 48 percent of Arizona Latino voters, according to a survey by impreMedia and Latino Decisions. At 47 percent, economy/jobs was a close second, with health care (15 percent) a distant third, and education (12 percent) ranked as fourth.

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It should be no surprise in SB 1070 war-torn and weary Arizona that immigration was cited as the prominent concern among many Latino voters whose family members, friends and community faced possible deportation.

But with the divisive and controversial law gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court and in practical terms essentially unenforceable with the federal government refusing to process immigration-only arrests, Arizona as a whole is rapidly moving into a post-SB 1070 mode.

So is the rest of the nation, with immigration hardliner Romney even distancing himself from SB 1070 in a presidential debate as any possible model for public policy, enforcement or pragmatic remedy.

Still, according to the Nov. 1-5 impreMedia-Latino Decisions survey of 400 Arizona Latinos, 58 percent of Latino voters said they didn’t believe Romney cares about Latino issues – and 18 percent viewed the former Massachusetts governor as outright “hostile” toward the Latino community. Just 14 percent said they believe Romney cares about Latinos.

For Obama, it was 69 percent on the caring side, but also a surprising is 22 percent of Arizona Latino voters who believe Obama doesn’t care about Latino issues.

Such sentiment is likely the result of the president failing to keep his first-term promise of immigration reform in his first year of office (obviously an unwilling Congress played a role), as well as his administration’s continual deportation of undocumented immigrants prior to his mini-Dreamers executive order over the summer

Such views among Latinos might have cost Obama in Arizona – a state he didn’t need to win, so therefore didn’t target. But a large number of Latinos not energized to vote for Obama – and thereby perhaps not voting at all – was a killer for other Democratic campaigns in Arizona.

Likely casualties include Latino candidate Richard Carmona for U.S. Senate and Paul Penzone for Maricopa County Sheriff, who still managed to provide the closest challenge for anti-illegal immigration icon Joe Arpaio since taking office in 1993. Both candidacies could have benefitted from greater Latino turnout, an elusive figure since the Secretary of State’s Office does not break down such numbers.

What does it all mean?

Evidence (Obama 43 percent of the Arizona vote, Carmona at 45 percent, Penzone at 42.8 percent) seems to suggest the Latino voter was lower than expected, especially since the unofficial tally by the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office had turnout listed at just over 53 percent. Immigration issues alone did not seem to be deciding factor.

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There is a sense of Arizona as a whole getting ready to look ahead and not behind when it comes to such divisive issues as SB 1070. A Morrison Institute poll in October found that despite Arizona’s reputation for strong anti-immigrant sentiments, less than a third of Arizonans believe the controversial law benefitted the state.

In fact, immigration, which once dominated Arizona’s political discourse and earned it international notice, came in fourth among topics that all Arizona voters said they want the Legislature to address.

Job creation (39 percent) was deemed the state’s most pressing issue, followed by education (20 percent and health care (16 percent).

Nearly 80 percent of Arizonans surveyed in the Morrison Institute poll were resigned to the belief that most of the undocumented immigrants currently living in Arizona will still be here in 10 years.

By 2030, Arizona Latinos will make up 35 percent of the state’s population, as Arizona turns into a majority-minority state. More importantly on election matters, Arizona Latinos age 20 or older by that time will have increased by 178 percent (compared to 42 percent of adult non-Latinos in that same 20-year time period).

Nearly 99 percent of Arizona Latinos ages 4 and under were citizens in 2010, meaning they’ll be eligible to vote.

By sheer numbers alone, that’s a lot of Latino voters in future elections – even if Latino voter registration and turnout remains at its traditional underwhelming percent.

In fact, Arizona could turn from a “red” conservative state to a “blue” progressive state perhaps as early as 2025, according to data projections in Arizona’s Emerging Latino Vote.

And if Latinos begin to take advantage of mail-in ballots – no wait or hassle at the voting precincts – and the next generation of Latinos becomes more politically active and engaged, as is expected, this very well could be the last time we ask: Where were the Latino voters?

The answer will be abundantly apparent in election results.

Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.

The director of communications for the Morrison Institute of Public Policy at ASU, Garcia is a longtime, award-winning journalist whose experience as a top editor, columnist and reporter included positions at The Arizona Republic, The Daily Times, Tucson Citizen, USA Today and The Associated Press.

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1 comment on this story

Nov 13, 2012, 11:26 am
-2 +2

This is racism, pure and simple…the author of this piece is assuming that someone is going to vote a certain way because of the color of their skin. If that isn’t racism or profiling then I don’t know what is…

strong anti-immigrant sentiments

Sigh, here we go again…how many people are going to tell this lie?

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