Since Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature and governor passed the harsh anti-immigrant law S.B. 1070 in 2010, the state has been ground zero for the nation’s increasingly acrimonious immigration debate. The policies enacted in S.B. 1070 and the rhetoric used to justify the law have angered and alienated Arizona’s Latino population—the fourth-largest in the nation. If the state’s rapidly increasing number of eligible Latino voters tilts away from the party that enacted and continues to defend the law, Arizona could turn from “red” to “blue” in November.
In advance of Arizona’s Republican caucus on February 28, we have compiled a list of important facts about Latinos and immigrants in the state.
1. Arizona has a substantial Latino population. 29.6 percent of Arizona’s 6.5 million residents are Latino, the fourth-highest population share in the nation. This population has grown by 46 percent over the past decade, helping the state gain an extra congressional seat after the 2010 census.
2. There were 766,000 eligible Hispanic voters in Arizona in 2010. That’s 18 percent of all eligible voters in the state.
3. Immigration is the top concern for Latino voters. In a 2010 poll of Latino voters in Arizona, 59 percent cited immigration as their top concern, well above the economy, health care, and education. The same poll found that Latino voters overwhelmingly oppose S.B. 1070, 81 percent to 16 percent.
4. State Sen. Russell Pearce (R), the Arizona Senate president and S.B. 1070 sponsor, became the first legislator in state history to be recalled in 2011. He lost his seat largely because of his virulent support for anti-immigrant bills. As SEIU International Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina pointed out, “Latino voters made the difference in the outcome,” turning out in droves to help moderate Republican Jerry Lewis defeat Pearce.
5. Latino voting preferences prior to S.B. 1070 slightly favored Democrats but have strongly favored them since. Latino support for Democratic candidates remained steady in Arizona between 2004 and 2008. In the 2004 presidential election, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) won the state’s Latino vote 53 percent to 44 percent against President George W. Bush. And in the 2008 presidential election, then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) won the state’s Latino vote 56 percent to 41 percent against Arizona Sen. John McCain (R). After S.B. 1070, however, Arizona gubernatorial candidate Terry Goddard (D) won the state’s Latino vote 85 percent to 14 percent against Jan Brewer in 2010. That same year Arizona Senate candidate Rodney Glassman (D) won the state’s Latino vote 78 percent to 22 percent against Sen. McCain, who tacked sharply to the right on immigration during the race and declared his support for S.B. 1070.
6. President Obama and Mitt Romney are now tied in the state among all voters. Polling released by Public Policy Polling, or PPP, on February 22 showed President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) tied at 47 percent, reflecting a seven-point swing in the president’s favor since November and evidencing the potential for the Latino vote to be decisive.
7. The Republican presidential candidates are deeply unpopular with the state’s Hispanic population. In a PPP poll released on February 22, Romney had just a 27 percent favorable rating among Hispanics, compared with a 66 percent unfavorable rating. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum fared only marginally better, with a 29 percent to 60 percent favorable/unfavorable rating. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul (TX) also did badly, with a 23 percent to 64 percent and 31 percent to 54 percent favorable/unfavorable rating respectively.
8. Democratic candidates such as Daniel Valenzuela, now serving on Phoenix’s City Council, have already harnessed the Latino vote to defeat Republican favorites. By increasing off-year turnout among the Latino community by 480 percent, Valenzuela ultimately crushed his favored opponent by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin.
9. Arizona’s Latinos contribute significantly to the state’s economic well-being. The 2009 purchasing power of Arizona’s Latinos totaled $33.9 billion—an increase of 428.7 percent since 1990.
10. Arizona’s undocumented immigrants also help fuel the state’s economy. In 2010 undocumented immigrants paid $443.2 million in state and local taxes. And according to a study by Dr. Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda and Marshall Fitz, if all unauthorized immigrants were removed from Arizona, the state would lose $48.8 billion in economic activity, decrease total employment by 17.2 percent, and eliminate 581,000 million jobs. Alternatively, if unauthorized immigrants in Arizona were legalized, it would add 261,000 jobs to the economy, increase labor income by $5.6 billion, and increase tax revenues by $1.6 billion.
Angela Maria Kelley is Vice President for Immigration Policy and Advocacy, Marshall Fitz is Director of Immigration Policy, and Jonathan Goldenberg is an intern with American Progress.