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Arizona's Importance

Now moving quickly toward Election Week, it is becoming apparent that the ultimate bellwether state for the 2020 presidential election is the Grand Canyon State of Arizona. Formerly a rock solid Republican political domain, the state has been trending toward the political center in recent elections, most particularly 2018.

Coming into the closing weeks of this year’s presidential campaign, it appears that Arizona may be this election’s “tell.” While it’s possible mathematically for President Donald Trump to win in the Electoral College without Arizona, realistically doing so may be a bridge too far.

The principal reason is Arizona has eleven electoral votes, and the idea that Trump could replace it with taking Wisconsin or Minnesota, for example, fails because those states each have ten votes. Therefore, losing Arizona would lead to him either falling into a tie, or losing the national electoral vote count, 270-268. The latter electoral vote margin occurs if he also drops the 2nd Congressional District of Nebraska, a state that is one of a pair to split their electoral votes. The most recent public NE-2 poll, from Siena College/New York Times (9/25-27; 420 NE-2 likely voters; live interview), finds the President trailing former Vice President Joe Biden in the Omaha metro district, 41-48%. 

The Trump math also fails without Arizona even if he carries Pennsylvania as his lone Great Lakes State. Losing Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin from his 2016 state coalition map, along with NE-2, would also yield a 270-268 Biden victory.

Last week, the Data Orbital polling firm headquartered in Phoenix and is the most prolific survey research firm in testing the Arizona electorate from statewide through local offices, released their latest presidential and US Senate numbers. Their poll (10/3-5; 550 AZ likely voters; live interview) is the first Arizona survey taken wholly after both the first presidential debate and President Trump being hospitalized for COVID-19.

According to the DO results, Mr. Biden leads President Trump, 47.7 – 43.2%, a margin of 4.5 percentage points. The margin is an increase for Biden over Data Orbital’s last survey, in September (9/14-17; 550 AZ likely voters; live interview), that found only a 2.7% split between the two candidates and Biden leading, 49.3 – 46.6%.

Again, the familiar patterns arise when looking at the Data Orbital crosstabs. President Trump is trailing, now badly, with women, voters in dominant Maricopa County, and the traditionally Republican 6th Congressional District, anchored in Scottsdale, that is clearly moving toward the political center.

The crosstabs show a substantial gender gap developing in Arizona. President Trump’s most serious issue is his standing among women. The DO poll shows Trump’s female support at only 36.8%, while Joe Biden receives 55.0%. This segment will have to improve if Trump is to turn Arizona around. Conversely, the President receives 47.9% of the male vote versus Biden’s 36.7%.

Maricopa County, which houses the state’s largest and capital city of Phoenix, is home to a whopping 61.6% of the state’s total population. Therefore, a winning candidate must do well here. According to this poll, Mr. Biden has a 49-40% lead in this most important local entity.

Finally, the 6th Congressional District, located wholly within Maricopa County, appears to be Trump’s problem source. The site of a tight US House race between five-term incumbent Rep. David Schweikert (R-Fountain Hills) and physician Hiral Tipirneni (D), which polls have indicated is a seesaw political affair, is an important national race. The suburban 6th District, and the adjoining 5th CD, are the only Republican seats not performing for the President, though the latter district is a virtual tie.

The swing Democratic 1st District, on the other hand, is not performing for Mr. Biden. This, however, does make sense because Mr. Trump carried it four years ago, and AZ-1 is largely a rural district. As underscored in other states, the President’s major political problems lie in the suburban CDs like AZ-5 and AZ-6.

The Senate numbers also favor the Democratic candidate, as virtually all pollsters are reporting. In this race, Data Orbital projects retired astronaut Mark Kelly (D) with a 49.2 – 43.7% lead over appointed Sen. Martha McSally* (R), results that are relatively consistent with other recent public polling data.


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