The high birth rate of Hispanics could turn Arizona politics on its head in less than two decades, a new study is predicting.
The report this morning by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University says that all those children being born to Hispanic parents in the state will be eligible to vote when they turn 18. And study authors say that, based on prior voting patterns, they are unlikely to register as -- or vote for --- Republicans.
In fact, most are likely to remain outside the two major parties, preferring to remain unaffiliated. But the models in the study figure that by 2030 the number of Democrats will equal or exceed the number of Republicans.
And that is something that has not happened since the 1984 election.
Bill Hart, a senior policy analyst at the institute, acknowledged that the exponential growth rate of the Hispanic population does not automatically guarantee greater input at the polls.
He said that Hispanics traditionally register and vote in lower percentages than the rest of the population. And Hart said there can be a variety of reasons for that, including that many Latinos work in jobs where they don't have the flexibility to take time off to get to the polls.
But even if Hispanics remain "low-efficacy voters,'' Hart told Capitol Media Services that really won't matter. It's a simple question of numbers.
"The key here really is the growth in the youth population who are citizens,'' he said, born in this country regardless of whether their parents are here legally.
"They're going to be here, they're going to grow up, become voter age,'' Hart explained. "Even if they keep the same registration patterns as they have been, there are still going to be so many of them that they're going to .... swell the ranks of Democrats and independents and reduce those of Republicans.''
The report is bound to reignite the political debate at the Capitol about whether the children of illegal immigrants should be entitled to citizenship -- and ability to vote -- by virtue of their birth in this country.
Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, sponsored legislation last session which would require the state health department to issue two types of birth certificates: one to children whose parents are citizens or permanent legal residents, and a different one to those who cannot provide such proof.
Gould said Tuesday the real aim is to force the U.S. Supreme Court to address the legal issue, saying prior rulings have sidestepped the question of the reach of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment, passed after the Civil War, says that "all persons born in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.''
All sides agree it was passed with slaves and their children in mind. The question is: How broad is its reach?
Gould denied that his interest and that of many GOP lawmakers in the issue is fueled by partisan fears that many of those Hispanics born in this country to immigrant parents will vote Democrat.
"If we were to actually secure the border and then we could move on from the illegal immigration issue, I think that many Hispanics would actually vote Republican,'' he said. "I believe that their family values and their work ethic are a better fit for the Republican Party than the Democrat Party.''
That, however, remains to be seen.
Hart agreed that Republicans are more aligned with Hispanics on some issues of concern to many, like abortion. And he said how Latinos will vote in the future is likely to be dependent on the specific policy issues on the agenda.
But he said history has shown Hispanics to be far more friendly to Democrats.
He cited a 2010 exit poll by the Pew Hispanic Center which found that 71 percent of Arizona Latino voters supported Democrat Terry Goddard for governor, with just 28 percent casting a ballot for Republican Jan Brewer. Brewer won, though, picking up nearly 54 percent of the total popular vote.
Similarly, the Pew report showed only 40 percent of Hispanics backed John McCain in his successful reelection bid to the U.S. Senate against Democrat Rodney Glassman.
The study's conclusion about the likely rising Hispanic voting strength is backed by fertility statistics kept by the state health department.
Hispanics make up slightly fewer than one-third of the state population, according to the most recent census figures. But close to 40 percent of all births recorded in Arizona in 2010 were to Hispanic parents.