The Presidential Horse Race in Arizona

On August 26th, project fivethirtyeight ran 40,000 simulations of the U.S. Presidential election, in roughly 21,200 of those simulations former Vice-President Biden was the victor in the state of Arizona while in roughly 18,800 of those simulations the Copper State chose to give their electoral votes to President Trump.

In the median simulation, the former Vice-President won the state of Arizona by just one percent, about as close to a true toss-up as you can get and the reasons for the competitiveness are worth examining. 

Arizona is an historically red state that has has been won by the Republican Presidential nominee every time this century and its competitiveness can be attributed to a number of factors including demographic trends, tremendous fundraising by the Democratic Senate nominee, key endorsements of Vice-President Biden by Arizona Republicans, a general move by college-educated whites and suburban women away from the President, and national trends that are unfavorable to the President.

With all these factors weighing against the President its no wonder why this historically Republican state is so competitive with just two months left in the campaign.

On the margins, there are some factors where it’s impossible to know the extent of their impact but one can assume that on the margins they help Joe Biden at least slightly in the state of Arizona. The fact that Mark Kelly seems to have a money printer lying around somewhere based on the millions upon millions of dollars his campaign has raised is certainly helpful to the Biden campaign as every dollar raised helps to get out the vote among Arizona Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.

The Biden campaign has certainly made a smart decision to capitalize on the President’s mean-spirited bashing of former Senator McCain by playing up his friendship with the former Senator at the Democratic National Convention.

The Biden campaign has also been able to appeal to some disaffected Republicans and independents who value bipartisanship through the recent launch of Republicans for Biden, which included endorsements from former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake and long time Congressman from Arizona Jim Kolbe. While none of these factors change the fundamentals of the race, close races are won at the margins, and at the margins, these factors have certainly been helpful for Joe Biden.

It is important to note in analyzing the 2020 race in Arizona that Arizona from the start was not as fond of the President as it had been of previous Republican nominees, in 2004, 2008, and 2012 the Republican Presidential nominees all won Arizona by about 8 ½ to 10 points while then-candidate Trump only carried the state by 3 ½ points.

The diversification of the state was certainly a factor in the smaller margin but it wasn’t enough for the state to narrow so dramatically after 4 years, especially considering that in 2016 Senator McCain carried the state by 13% in his final re-election bid.

A large portion of this narrowing was due to the trend of white suburban women, especially those with college degrees, abandoning the Republican party because of Trump. This was the same trend that caused Democrats to take control of the house in 2018, it’s the same trend that helped Kyrsten Sinema win a Senate seat in 2018, this is the trend that is largely responsible for Joe Biden consistently having an 8 to 9 point national polling lead, and it’s the same trend that has made Joe Biden a narrow favorite to win Arizona in November.

With that being said it becomes important not just to look into what has made the copper state move towards the Biden campaign but what has (surprisingly to some) kept the President competitive in the state. This is a rising approval on his handling of the Coronavirus across the swing states.

In the most recent CNBC/Change Research Battleground poll they found that President Trump’s approval on his handling of the pandemic was at 47%, up from 44% earlier in the month and perfectly in line with the horse race in Arizona where the poll found former Vice-President Biden leading 49-47.

The potential for the President’s approval on his handling of COVID-19 to continue rising as new cases and new deaths in Arizona continue to decline is certainly the most likely if not the only way for the state to wind up back in the President’s column.

Ethan Suquet is a student at the Florida International University Honors College and is the Treasurer of the FIU College Republicans. Ethan is a guest contributor for the Western Tribune.

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