Arizona is a state that most polls and pundits long ago wrote off. The thinking was simply – it’s a Republican state. It was Barry Goldwater’s home and Democrats rarely win.
And it’s also a state – as I pointed out last week – where American Indians could make a difference, especially as a part of a coalition that includes Latino voters.
Now there are new numbers to back up this story. The Rocky Mountain Poll released over the weekend says President Barack Obama has pulled into a statistical tie with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Just a few months ago that same poll showed Romney ahead by 8 points.
“Thus it must be concluded that Arizona is definitely a battleground state in both the Presidential and the U.S. Senate races and there can be little doubt that the outcome will be largely dependent on which political party does the best job of turning out its voters and whether the Democrats can hang onto the Latino vote,” the Rocky Mountain polls says.
Another sign that Arizona is hot, hot, hot, is that Bill Clinton was in Phoenix campaigning last week. More than 5,000 people showed up to the event at Arizona State University in Tempe. The Phoenix New Times said there would have been more, “but the fire marshall eventually shut down admissions and campaign workers were forced to turn people away.”
Arizona has had the potential to be competitive for a long time. And, the Rocky Mountain polls says the election is a test of “Latino leadership to organize and produce voters via their grassroots campaign” because “if Latinos turn out in numbers proportionate to their population, which has never been the case in the past, they could help send a Democrat to the U.S. Senate and revitalize the once long tradition of Arizona having one Democrat and one Republican in the Senate. But if the Latino vote is disproportionately low, the Arizona Senate delegation will almost certainly stay in the GOP column.”
What makes the Rocky Mountain Poll particularly interesting is that it includes Spanish-speaking responses. This is important because some Latino voters are more likely to respond in Spanish than in English, boosting the accuracy of the poll.
But one caution from the survey is that not enough Latino and American Indian voters will actually cast a ballot. In every election poll a number of people say they won’t vote for whatever reason. “This year, that figure is around 15 percent but it varies significantly depending upon what type of voter we speak with,” the Rocky Mountain poll found. “The indication this year is that Republicans, older voters, conservatives, Caucasians and liberals are the least likely to forgo voting. At the same time, minorities, including Latinos, younger voters and Independents are among the most likely to predict that they may not vote. In an election as tight as this appears to be, this would spell an advantage to the GOP.”
As is usually the case, Arizona’s American Indian population is not included in the poll as a distinct population group (only as an “other.”) The main reason for that is the Behavior Research Center, the outfit that conducted the poll, only surveyed 500 voters. The New York Times’ Nate Silver says this is a small enough number that “I would not be too worried about the top line numbers if I were Mr. Romney’s campaign — or too enthralled with them if I were Mr. Obama’s.”
Nonetheless it’s interesting because Silver says: “In the past couple of elections, polls have underestimated Democrats’ standing in states with heavy Hispanic populations. (The two senate races that the FiveThirtyEight forecast called incorrectly in 2010 — Nevada and Colorado — are both states with a healthy number of Hispanic voters.)”
The Democrat’s Senate Candidate, former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, is one reason why a coalition of minority voters might actually turn out. “His strength traces to the fact that he is very competitive among Caucasian voters but has a wide lead among Latinos (65 to 18 percent) and among non-Latino minorities (47 to 38 percent),” the poll shows.
Arizona author and journalist Terry Greene Sterling wrote Saturday that Arizona has been going through this demographic shift between two clashing electorates, “old white people and young brown people. In a battle over scant resources, the young people want good schools and solid infrastructure. (I’m with the kids, by the way). Old white people want their Medicare and Social Security. And they don’t necessarily want to spend money on the young.”
By choosing to vote – or not – Arizona’s Latinos and American Indians will decide this race one way or another.
Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org.