When will Latinos finally flex their muscle at the ballot box?
That question is asked in virtually every election cycle and usually is quickly followed by the declaration, "This will be the year" -- and then followed by an underwhelming voter turnout among Latinos.
Predictably, we're hearing the same question during the 2012 election season, but this time, the same answer carries a bit more confidence for a good many reasons:
SB 1070 has been a galvanizing force for the Latino community, which largely views such anti-immigration measures and resulting rhetoric as also being anti-Latino.
Latino participation is largely credited with Barack Obama's surprisingly strong showing in Arizona in the 2008 presidential race against Arizona's own U.S. Sen. John McCain.
Younger Latinos seem more politically engaged today than previous generations, thanks in part to social media and greater assimilation.
Latino voters were central to the recent elections of Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and Councilman Daniel Valenzuela.
The U.S. Senate candidacy of former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, a Latino, is expected to be an additional draw for Latino voters come November.
The list goes on. But in Morrison Institute for Public's Policy's newest report, "Arizona's Emerging Latino Vote," a larger question is being asked and addressed:
What impact will there be for increased Latino participation at the polls?
The answer: a likely lasting change to Arizona's political landscape, perhaps even turning Arizona from a red state to a blue state by 2025. The change could come even sooner if Latinos register and vote in greater numbers than they do now.
The bottom line, though, is that change is on the way.
The report, co-authored by Morrison Institute senior policy analyst Bill Hart and Arizona State University faculty associate E.C. Hedberg, first looked at the why.
And the why is indisputable: There is a huge population of young Latinos in Arizona. Contrary to popular myth, they're almost all U.S. citizens; and over the next few decades, they will grow to be voting age.
That dynamic is not going to change -- because it is the change.
Too many of today's Latino residents age 18 and older fall into one of three categories: don't register, don't vote or can't vote (as in "can't vote" because they are undocumented immigrants).
Tomorrow's Latino residents of legal age, however, will permanently remove that third category --"can't vote" -- because virtually all are U.S. citizens. They all will be eligible to vote. Their children will be able to do the same but on an even greater scale, because the Latino population continues to grow exponentially by a high birth rate.
Non-Hispanic Whites in Arizona are going the opposite direction, with a constricting and quickly aging population.
So, even if the next generation of Latinos and the generation after that vote in the traditionally low numbers we've seen for so many years, and even if there is no new wave of immigration and we remain at or near zero net migration, by sheer numbers alone Latinos voters will have an undeniably big impact at the ballot box.
What does that mean exactly?
Predicting the future is tricky. Even seemingly predictable daily summertime weather forecasts in the Valley of "hot again" is forever fraught with ever-changing variables -- haboobs, surprising thunderstorms, higher/lower-than-expected temperatures, a sudden hailstorm, hopscotching microbursts.
Predicting five, 10 or 20 years out is even more daunting and understandably should be viewed with healthy skepticism -- except in this case, data and demographics presented in the report show us a clear preview of the future:
There will be a 178 percent or greater increase in the number of Latino citizens age 20 and older from 2010 to 2030. In contrast, the number of adult non-Latino Arizona citizens is expected to increase by only 42 percent during this period.
Acknowledging variants in the foggy future, "Arizona's Emerging Latino Vote" (available online at MorrisonIn
stitute.asu.edu) paints a couple of scenarios. And guess what? They show the same picture: By 2025, Democrats will match or surpass the number of Republicans because of a cadre of new Latino voters.
That's because research shows Latino voters traditionally register as Democrats. Exit interviews and polling also show Latinos usually vote Democratic -- even if they register as independents, as a growing number of voters across the board are registering.
If party and voting preferences continue, it could mean:
More Democrats will be elected (unless the Democrat Party makes the fatal mistake of taking the Latino vote for granted).
More independents are elected, as more candidates become independents.
Fewer conservative Republicans get elected, because those virulently espousing anti-immigrant platforms and sentiments will have a harder time getting elected statewide with Latinos voting in such large numbers.
A return of moderate Republicans, who reach out to Latino voters instead of pushing them away.
Any way you look at it, change is coming.
For some individuals, it may be difficult to grasp or even care about a voting future so far in the distance. A lot can change in politics between now and 2025. Perhaps Latinos will suddenly become more conservative (an unlikely scenario because political viewpoints are formed at an early age). Or perhaps some conservative politicians will moderate their Latino public-policy stances. Nothing is written in stone, especially not talk radio.
What is highly unlikely to happen, however, is a change in the 14th Amendment, which declares anyone born in the United States to automatically be deemed a U.S. citizen.
Those banking on such a change might also want to purchase a Powerball ticket for similar odds.
A better bet -- a sure bet, actually -- would be to visualize a tsunami somewhere out in the middle of the ocean, racing toward an otherwise unsuspecting shore where ruling parties are enjoying yet another sunny day at the beach.
Between now and the time the tsunami strikes shore and forever changes the political landscape, there will be increments of increasingly larger waves of Latino voting and participation -- perhaps noticeable beginning this year but not causing too much immediate alarm.
But unless alarms are sounded and, more importantly, heeded, all parties and politicians either are going to get comfortably and intentionally wet or be hung out to dry.
By the way, the tsunami analogy isn't intended to frighten anyone, only to illustrate the magnitude of change coming and/or get the attention of those who are somehow still unable or unwilling to understand the scope we're talking about for Arizona and the nation as a whole.
More than any other population, Latinos represent Arizona's future politically, economically and otherwise. Must we wait for a sea change at the ballot box before embracing that fact and acknowledging that as Latinos go, so goes Arizona?
Perhaps that's the question we should be asking this election, if not certainly the next.
Joseph Garcia, a former political reporter and editor, is director of Morrison Institute Latino Public Policy Center.