Here at HighGround, we have been keeping track the direction of the State of Arizona (or what we euphemistically call Arizona’s “Happiness Index”) since 2009. Back then, we were plunged deep into those dark and cold economic days: 30% of the State budget, or about $3 Billion dollars, was missing; unemployment and bankruptcies were skyrocketing; and, Governor Janet Napolitano took the last train for the East Coast as the music died.
Around that time, in March of 2009, a little more than 35% of Arizonans thought Arizona was on the right track. Three years later in March of 2012, optimism had improved slightly with a little more than 42% of Arizonans feeling the state was heading in the right direction. For for the past nine years, one thing was absolutely consistent in our data: More Arizonans thought the State of Arizona was on the wrong track by a fairly wide margin.
However, we have found that in the spring and early summer of 2018, for the first time since we have been keeping track, more Arizonans believe that the State is going in the right direction than not. Our latest two statewide surveys show that 43% (March) and 46% (June) of Arizonans think the State is headed in the right direction with 40% (March) and 42% (June) still holding onto the wrong track opinion. But, as you see below the lines crossed:
So, what does that mean? Is there a ‘blue wave’ about to hit the Arizona shores that Democrats are touting? Or, perhaps, is there an unexpected ‘red tide’ about to flood the Grand Canyon State?
One thing we can say for sure about Arizona’s fall election is there are substantially more contested primaries this year compared to 2016. Historically, heavily contested late primaries (August 28) will have a beneficial effect on voter turnout come November. But, by how much?
One hundred and fourteen days from today (June 18), early voting for Arizona’s General Election begins (October 9). In typical Gubernatorial Election cycles, Republicans hold an 11 to 14-point participation advantage.
In short, we anticipate a little over 700,000 fewer voters in 2018 compared to the last Presidential cycle in 2016. And remember 2014 was the lowest Arizona voter turnout in the State’s modern history, when over 50% of Arizonans thought the State was on the “wrong track”.
So, if Democratic participation is bumped by 4% it would bring approximately 100K more Democrat voters to the polls.
For the Governor, that is not a problem; a 100K voter increase would still leave the Democrats 90K short of taking the office. Plus remember, the Democrats abandoned the #RedforEd wave when they voted against the Governor’s #20×2020 proposal to increase teacher pay. My take is that the optimism expressed in the right track question above is a sign that the Governor, himself, will be riding that wave, giving him a relatively easy path to victory.
Remember in 2014, this was a hotly contested race between Mark Brnovich and Felicia Rotellini? Brnovich prevailed by approximately 86K votes. Now, he is the incumbent and by most accounts, has done a remarkably good job for a guy with so few vowels in his name. January Contreras is a thoughtful and experienced public official. But Mark will win this race because he has done a good job. In addition, there are not a lot of bad things she can say about him while pushing her own name ID and her own agenda. Law and Order = Republican.
Secretary of State
This is perhaps the only Democratic opportunity. Michele Reagan triumphed over Terry Goddard by roughly 66K votes in 2014. Since then, she modified her position on dark money and has had some issues running elections and getting promised transparency technology implemented in a timely manner.
If Reagan survives her primary challenge from Republican businessman and self-funded rookie candidate Steve Gaynor, she will likely have to face a head-to-head with State Senate Minority Leader, Senator Katie Hobbs. The Democrats, with the aforementioned turnout model, will look at this as a real opportunity. Of course, as we all know, the Secretary of State’s office is the well-worn path to the Governor’s office. The last sitting Governor to complete two fully elected terms was Bruce Babbitt in, wait for it… 1987! Are we facing a future with a “Governor Hobbs?”
This will be a hell of a contest to watch.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
Diane Douglas won this seat by a mere 16K votes in 2014 while losing Republican voter-rich Maricopa County in the process. Given Democrat enthusiasm surrounding K-12 education, former State Senator David Schapira should be expected to win this race – but hold on.
Again, the Democrats failed to ride the #RedforEd wave. If the AEA and their cohorts are successful at getting their income tax hike on the ballot, that could be an anvil around the Democrat’s neck. The Governor and his team are waiting with bated breath to put their claws into that boneheaded idea. Expect that issue, if it makes the ballot, and the debate about Proposition 305, Empowerment Scholarships Accounts (ESAs), to largely shape voter perceptions surrounding this race.
Also, expect to again see Frank Riggs in the Republican primary lifting weights and working out in a fevered pitch to unseat the incumbent – I’m not betting that will happen, but it could.
I will wait for another blog post to write about the esteemed race for Corporation Commission. That will be a circus unto itself. Bust out the popcorn, warm up the butter and wait for the outcome of the corruption trial now being held downtown in US District Court.
Ah, another Arizona summer. And here’s a slight teaser for our next post:
Congresswoman Sinema has, with her early television buy, significantly increased her name identification amongst Arizona voters. At the beginning of this year, roughly 50% of the Arizona’s high efficacy General Election voters did not know who she was. Today, that number is at or below 40% and her favorability ratings have similarly improved. While the Republicans fight it out to see who can hug President Trump the hardest (GOP approval rating 4.07 on a 5-point scale), Sinema is running in an open field appealing to moderate Republican women, Independents and Party Not Disclosed swing voters.
I’m surprised, personally, that the Republican Senatorial Committee hasn’t begun a counter narrative on Sinema, but I would expect that to be coming soon, sorta like a summer monsoon.