Rally round the polls, Arizona

A week before the general election, early voting indicates that Arizona will not witness a surge of new voters as predicted. More than half the ballots are cast. Republicans are showing a clear advantage in the numbers. Older and whiter voters are prevailing.

But never say never. While early balloting is a strong indicator, it does not guarantee what will happen on Election Day, Arizona pollsters said. Younger and minority voters tend to vote closer to Election Day.

“There’s still a lot of race to be run,” said Paul Bentz, senior vice president of research and strategy at HighGround, Inc. in Phoenix.

Longtime Phoenix political analyst and radio host Michael O’Neil concedes that a 10 percent advantage is a strong indicator for the GOP. But there could still be surprises.

“This is one strong indicator for the Republicans, but I see 10 indicators for the Democrats,” O’Neil said. “If you look at all the factors nationally, almost all of them expect an extremely good year for Democrats. If you look at surveys on who’s motivated and who’s enthused and who’s for sure going to vote, overall, those are all Democrat.”

At least one race is crystal clear: Gov. Doug Ducey is sitting in the catbird seat with polls showing he is crushing his Democratic opponent, David Garcia. A HighGround poll last week had Ducey with 54.8 percent of support over Garcia’s 35.3 percent.

While early voting may reflect the status quo in Arizona, the election cycle has been anything but. This has been one of the most contentious and expensive in the state’s history. With the election a week away, Arizona pollsters are rushing in to provide survey results on races and propositions statewide. The nation is watching, too.

One of the most exciting and costly races is a dead heat between two Arizona congresswomen. Republican and retired Air Force combat pilot Martha McSally and Democrat and lawyer Kyrsten Sinema are fighting for the congressional seat currently occupied by the retiring Sen. Jeff Flake. On Tuesday, Sinema jumped ahead by six points in a poll by NBC/Marist, but whether she can hold the lead is unclear, pollsters said. HighGround’s poll showed McSally with the lead.

“My prediction is that it will take every ballot counted to find out who it’s going to break down to,” pollster Bentz said.

As the polls trickle out this week, here is what’s trending:

Minorities and younger voters, who tend to lean Democrat, are not showing up in higher numbers as predicted. With 1.1 million ballots cast as of Tuesday, Republicans were leading by 10 percent. That’s just about where voters were in the 2016 election, said Mike Noble, chief pollster for OH Predictive Insights of Phoenix.

“We now know it’s very, very likely it will be close to a historical turnout,” Noble said Monday.  “They initially were saying it would be a Republican plus 4 advantage.”

Two other recent polls bode well for the GOP. Arizonans are feeling more optimistic about the state’s future. The surveys show 49 to 55 percent of Arizonans believe the state is going in the right direction, while 27 to 38 percent think it is on the wrong track.

“When people are positive about their state, they are more likely to go with who’s in power,” said George Khalaf, president of Data Orbital, a Phoenix data analysis and political consulting firm. “In the middle of April with Red for Ed, everything seemed pessimistic. But teachers got a pay raise, and they will continue to get a full 20 percent raise by 2020.

“My gut says if there was a way to poll those 55,000 people, they would say they are happy now–that they feel the mission was accomplished.”

Meanwhile, women are showing a strong presence in the polls, taking over the lead in a number of races including state school superintendent and secretary of state.

“There are strong signs that female voters are favoring female candidates in this increasingly polarized election cycle,” pollster Bentz said. “The key differences in the three statewide down ballot races are mainly driven by the significant contrast in the opinions of the female survey respondents.

“Despite all three male candidates facing female opponents, it would appear that the attorney general is the only one bucking the trend that is significantly bolstering other statewide Democratic candidates.”

Attorney General Mark Brnovich holds an 8-point lead over challenger January Contreras in the HighGround poll, while the GOP candidates for secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction are slightly trailing their Democratic opponents, Katie Hobbs and Kathy Hoffman.

“To borrow a line from the Talking Heads, ‘Same as it ever was.’ Just as it always is in close Arizona elections, it will come down to females and Independent and unaffiliated voters,” Bentz said.

Victoria Harker

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