Photo courtesy of Eddie Poe
With the help of Latino voters, Arizona residents could elect a Democratic candidate to the presidency for only the second time since 1948.
A usual Republican stronghold, 1996 marks the only other time that Arizona has voted blue in a presidential election — when it helped elect Democratic nominee Bill Clinton.
This year’s Republican nominee, Donald Trump, has focused much of his campaign rhetoric on a plan to build an impenetrable wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. His plot to put a stop to illegal immigration helped spur an insurgency among Latino communities and could continue an increasing trend in a state that looks to be a battleground on Nov. 8.
Out of seven competitive states, Latinos currently have the most electoral sway in Arizona with a 22% share of the state’s vote — according to Pew Research Center.
Arizona’s Latino population continues to increase its electoral power having represented a growing percentage of all ballots cast in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. That trend is expected to continue in the upcoming election as more than one million Latinos could be eligible to vote.
Petra Falcon, a leading activist who has been working on behalf of Latinos in Arizona for forty years, says issues that are important to the Latino immigrant community continues to invigorate an interest in politics.
“The lack of public education funding and Arizona Senate Bill 1070,” she said, “has struck a nerve amongst a population of people that have felt voiceless.”
She called 1070, “one of the strictest anti-illegal immigration measures,” and said now, Latinos are “paying much closer attention to the decision’s that state legislators are making.”
A fourth generation Mexican-American, Falcon founded Promise Arizona — an organization that believes building immigrant and Latino political power is key to bringing progress to their communities. The organization has focused on helping Latino candidates in Arizona get elected, which Falcon says is the first step in prompting more Latinos to care about politics.
“Without Latinos in public political life speaking on behalf of their concerns, it’s difficult to motivate them to vote and take part in elections,” she said.
For Jose Barbosa, he says getting Latinos elected into office is the number one reason why a spark in interest among Latinos has taken hold of Arizona.
“More Latinos are taking office and voicing the things that we’ve been saying for so long,” said Barbosa.
A 24-year-old undocumented immigrant and volunteer for Promise Arizona, he says that past leaders and a certain Presidential candidate continue to disregard their concerns.
“Donald Trump is just another example of our leaders in government who think that Latino immigrant lives don’t matter,” he said. “This will be the election that will put Latinos over the top and will send a message to Washington that we’re just as important as everyone else.”
In local elections, Latino voters have also had an increased effect. In 2011, they were credited with playing a significant role in the defeat of then Senate President Russell Pearce, who gained notoriety by authoring the controversial Senate Bill 1070. That same year in the Phoenix Municipal Election, Latino voter turnout increased three-fold over the previous mayoral election.
Four years later, Latino turnout held steady as Phoenix voters overwhelmingly re-elected Mayor Greg Stanton and passed Proposition 104, a vote that increased city-wide investment in the transportation infrastructure.
The uprising of Latinos is felt most profoundly among the younger generation of voters and will rely on them heavily to continue making an impact at both the state and local levels.
Jonathan Arroyo is an undergraduate student at Arizona State University and third generation Mexican-American. After this election, he wants to continue that fight as he pursues a career in politics.
“I see what’s happening in Latino communities and I want to help give them a voice,” Arroyo said. “People wonder all the time why Latinos aren’t voting in elections and it’s really simple… they feel like they’re being ignored.”
According to Latino Decisions, millennials are the fastest-growing group among Latinos. Under the age of 30, they make up just over 50% of the Latino population in the state of Arizona.
“In order to continue the movement, we have to turn out this election,” said Arroyo, it’s too important and there’s too much on the line.”
In Maricopa, the largest county in the state, an average of 2,042 Latinos turn 18 every month — according to estimates by the Morrison Institute Latino Public Policy Center at ASU. It’s a number that exceeds that of whites and highlights a trend that is taking place nationally.
As the 2016 Presidential Election nears its conclusion, the Latino community perhaps feels more threatened than they’ve ever before. Petra Falcon is expecting a loud and momentous uproar among Latinos and feels that this election will put Arizona on the map for decades to come.
“We were able to register thousands of new Latino voters in 2008. We turned out even more in 2012. 2016 is going to change everything for Latinos in Arizona. Falcon says, “our voices will be heard by everyone.”