Is Idaho’s Latino population on track to upend Idaho politics?
Notice I said “on track,” not “is about to.” You’d be unwise to hold your breath expecting immediate massive changes in Idaho demographics or election results from what we have recently seen.
But over time? During the next decade or two, there’s a good chance that Gem State Latinos may make a significant difference in Idaho elections.
Consider last year’s election for governor, won by Republican Brad Little with an unsurprisingly large percentage of the vote; the totals were about 360,000 to 231,000, or about 600,000 total. That lead of about 130,000 votes seems like too much to overtake any time soon. Keep the number in mind.
And bear in mind that while Idaho’s population overall has been growing strong, its non-Latino population is growing only slowly, while the Latino sector has been increasing much faster. Idaho’s Latino population is about 12 percent of the total – about 198,000 people in all – a steadily increasing percentage. (In case you were wondering: Overwhelmingly, they are in fact American citizens.)
More important than that is the age of this sector: Many are young, disproportionately just under the voting age. But that’s changing, somewhat. A large segment of those 198,000 people who haven’t been eligible to vote because of age, will be over the next few elections.
The point will be made that the actual Latino vote up to now has fallen short of its pools of qualified electors – that many have not participated. There’s truth in that. But participation tends to change as you see more of the people around you getting involved; if your friends and neighbors vote more, your likelihood of voting may rise too. So as the overall number of Latinos in Idaho will be growing, so will the percentage of them qualified by age to vote, which will in turn trigger more of the overall population to start to participate.
In a story in the Twin Falls Times News (one of several recent news articles on the subject worth your attention), Margie Gonzalez, the executive director of the state Commission on Hispanic Affairs, said, “Because of the size and age of our population, we’re going to start seeing a real shift in the next five to 10 years. We’re going to see Hispanic youth in leadership roles all across the state.” She’s likely right.
Latino candidates have been surfacing in larger numbers in local races, especially in some of the state’s smaller cities. That’s how this kind of change starts. Legislative seats and state offices will come later.
And there are a growing number of places around Idaho, scattered for mostly in rural places around southern Idaho, where the Latino population has hit a tipping point. In Clark County, which few people would have thought of as a Latino place, 45 percent of the population now identifies as such – and the percentage is growing.
As a matter of partisan preference, Latinos are not overwhelmingly located in one political party. But the group does, nationally, lean strongly toward the Democratic party. In the last few presidential elections, the Latino vote split at about two-thirds to three-fourths for the Democratic nominee; outside of Florida, the number tends toward the higher range.
Now: Does that 130,000 vote gap still seem so completely out of reach?
This isn’t a suggestion of political revolution in the air in Idaho, not yet. Don’t look for more than an echo of it in 2020. But it is one of several indicators suggesting that the solid-state reality of Idaho politics may be undergoing some changes in the not too far-off future.