Arizona’s Latino voters and political independents could spell midterm defeats for MAGA candidate

Latino Voters And Political Independents
Mary Rose Wilcox and other small business owners hold up Mark Kelly for Senate rally signs at a small business roundtable event in Phoenix.

The victories of extremist GOP candidates and open support of baseless conspiracy theories have added a volatile ingredient to the politics of Arizona, where a historically conservative electorate is undergoing dramatic political shifts due to changing demographics.

by Gina Woodall

Two years after the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump’s resentment over losing continues to energize his supporters in Arizona.

That resentment played out during the Aug. 13, 2022, Republican primaries that saw Trump-endorsed candidates for U.S. Senate, governor, secretary of state and state attorney general sweep the GOP ticket.

While each of the candidates made Trump’s false claims that he won the presidential contest a central part of their campaigns, it’s unclear whether that message will resonate among Arizona’s increasingly diverse registered voters in the general election on Nov. 8, 2022.

Trump-endorsed Blake Masters beat his Republican challengers and faces incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly. In the governor’s race, Kari Lake, the former television anchor endorsed by Trump, is facing Democrat Kati Hobbes, the sitting Arizona secretary of state, for the governor’s office.

In the state’s attorney general’s race, GOP candidate and another 2020 election denier Abraham Hamadeh, faces Democrat Kris Mayes.

Most disconcerting to Democrats was the primary win of Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem, a 2020 election denier who won the Republican nomination for secretary of state over a more moderate Republican. If he beats Democrat Adrian Fontes in the November general election, Finchem would oversee the state’s elections.

That possibility has Democrats fearing repeats of political acts such as the Republican-backed review of the 2020 presidential election in Arizona’s largest county that ended without producing proof to support Trump’s false claims of a stolen election.

Changing demographics favor Democrats

As a native Arizonan who has studied Arizona politics for the past 20 years, I have seen the rise of political extremism in my home state.

The victories of extremist GOP candidates and open support of baseless conspiracy theories have added a volatile ingredient to the politics of Arizona, where a historically conservative electorate is undergoing dramatic political shifts due to changing demographics.

Over the past 10 years, residents who identify solely as white saw their numbers shrink from 73% in 2010 to 60% in 2020. At the same time, the number of residents who identified as more than one race grew from 3.4% in 2010 to nearly 14% in 2020.

In all, Arizona has close to 7.5 million residents, and over 30% of them identify as Latino. Over the past decade, the state’s Latino population grew from 1.9 million to 2.2 million. By some estimates, Latinos could make up as much as 50% of the state’s population by 2050.

If national statistics are any indication, Latino voters tend to support Democrats. In a March 2022 poll, about 48% of Latinos nationwide considered themselves Democrats, and only 23% identified as Republican.

In Arizona, the numbers are similar.

According to a 2022 study, Latinos are more likely to be Democrats than non-Latinos are, with 45% of Latinos affiliating with the Democratic Party, compared with 28% of non-Latinos. Less than 15% of Latinos are registered as Republicans, the report found, and 40% are registered as “other” and are not affiliated with either major party.

The growth of Latino voters in Arizona contributed to Joe Biden’s win in 2020 – and also the elections of Democrats Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema to the U.S. Senate.

MAGA state?

For the past 70 years, Arizona has been a reliable state for Republican presidential politicians. Bill Clinton was the only Democratic candidate to win a presidential race there since the election of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952.

That changed in 2020 with Biden’s surprising win over Trump. Though the election saw a record turnout of about 3.4 million voters, it was ultimately decided by a mere 10,457 votes.

Since then, Republican leaders in Arizona and around the nation have taken a hard right.

The party that was once dominated by conservative leader Barry Goldwater and John McCain, a moderate Republican who believed in fighting against climate change, has been taken over by leaders who support the notion that Trump somehow won the state and the last presidential election.

Given the increase in Latino voters in the state, it is no surprise that tightening immigration laws is an issue among the GOP, especially among Trump supporters.

In fact, Lake wasted little time after her primary win to use incendiary language in proclaiming her first goal if elected governor in November.

“Day 1,” she wrote on Twitter. “I take my hand off the Bible, give the Oath of Office and we Declare an Invasion on our Southern Border …”

As part of her campaign, Lake has attempted to paint Hobbes as someone who would be ineffective on border security. It’s unclear whether that strategy will work in a state with a fast-growing Latino population.

While Lake is fully embracing her MAGA support, Masters is doing the opposite in the U.S. Senate race against the incumbent Kelly. In one of the most competitive U.S. Senate races in the country, Kelly, a moderate Democrat, is favored to win. As a result, Masters has started moderating his image and toning down his extremist rhetoric after beating his GOP rivals.

On abortion, for instance, Masters has gone as far as scrubbing his own website of previous hard-line, anti-abortion stances and support for Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

“We need to get serious about election integrity,” Masters posted on his site in August. “The 2020 election was a rotten mess – if we had had a free and fair election, President Trump would be sitting in the Oval Office today and America would be so much better off.”

After the primary, Masters’ site only says, “We need to get serious about election integrity.”

Counting the political numbers

Heading into November, one thing is clear: The 2022 midterm elections in Arizona cannot be won by one party alone, but requires a combination of Republicans, Democrats and independent voters to win in this evenly divided state.

Among registered voters, the GOP has about 1.5 million residents, or 35%. Nearly 1.3 million voters are registered as Democrats, while about 1.4 million, or about 34%, registered as other or independent.

With such an equal split among political parties, election outcomes rely more on voter turnout. In the past two presidential elections, the number of registered voters who cast ballots jumped from about 2.6 million, or 74%, in 2016 to 3.4 million, or nearly 80%, in 2020.

The state GOP is counting on President Biden’s low approval ratings, high inflation and the typical midterm referendum on the incumbent’s party to get its voters out on Election Day.

The Democrats are focusing on get-out-the-vote efforts, particularly among young Latinos, and painting the Trump-endorsed candidates as too extreme for Arizonans.

Given the changing demographics in Arizona, that strategy may appeal to not only independent voters but also mainstream Republicans disillusioned with the extreme wing of their party.



Gina Woodall  is a Principal Lecturer at the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University