As we head into the final weekend of this historic election cycle, more than 2.3 million voters in the State of Arizona have already cast their ballot. By the end of the weekend, it is likely that we will surpass the total number of people who voted in all of 2018 before a single person votes in person or drops off a ballot on Election Day.
At this point, it appears very likely that Arizona is going to surpass 3 million total votes for the first time in state history and the record turnout of 80.1% that was achieved in 1980 appears well within reach. Democrat enthusiasm was at a fever pitch the first two weeks of returns jumping out to a significant lead and outperforming Republicans in early voting for the first time in recent history.
Since then, Republicans narrowed the gap and finally caught up. While both parties are now dead even statewide, Republican ballot returns finally surpassed Democrats in Maricopa earlier this week. We saw a similar pattern in the primary where Democrats came out with a strong lead and the Republicans narrowed the gap. They did not, however, make it to the historic advantage that we have seen in past primaries. Traditionally, GOP has made up approximately 60% of primary ballots cast. Democratic primary participation increased 40% from 2016 to 2018 and “surged” again 32% from 2018 to 2020. As a result, the GOP advantage gap narrowed from 51.8% to 47.9%.
We are seeing a similar pattern in the General Election so far, Democrats leading and Republicans playing catch up. Here are the current breakdowns of the 2.3 million votes that have been cast so far:
• 37.3% Republican
• 37.3% Democrat
• 25.4% Independent and other
• 62.4% Maricopa County
• 16.5% Pima County
• 21.1% Rural Arizona
In 2016, Republicans held a 6.7-point advantage in all votes cast – and Trump won by 3.5 points (91k votes). If there are a million votes left to be cast, Republicans would have to best Democrats more than 2 to 1 and make up nearly half of all remaining votes to achieve a similar advantage. To achieve a 3-point advantage from our model, they would need to build a 1.5 to 1 lead and make up nearly 38% of all remaining votes. Both scenarios assume independent turnout near traditional levels though they are underperforming slightly at the moment.
There is no doubt that Republicans will surge at the end. In fact, this year will be very different from two years ago where Republicans were in the lead early in the night and Democrats slowly gained as more ballots were counted. This year, its likely to see early Democratic leads that shrink as more ballots are counted.
The ultimate question is how much and are there enough to close the gap? There are still nearly 400,000 likely voters who are pretty much guaranteed to show up in Maricopa County. 48.8% of those voters are Republicans. For Trump and other Republicans to win, they will need every single one of them. With turnout in Maricopa County being near even, we all should be looking at the countywide races as well as those legislative districts (LD17, LD20, LD21, LD23, LD28) that many people having been looking at closely as the cycle began.
Finally, the Trump campaign is hoping for a historic turnout in Greater Arizona (outside of Pima and Maricopa Counties). It does not appear that is happening as we go into the last weekend (or at least reporting has not caught up). But, again, Election Day turnout could surprise a lot of us.
Additionally, one of the most watched races – LD6 which includes Coconino, Yavapai, and some White Mountains – at this writing has nearly split turnout with a slight edge towards Republicans. How the 24% of unaffiliated voters break could determine the winner in this contest.
There is a lot to be looking at on election night, which will certainly hold some surprises. Have your popcorn at the ready.