By Jim EllisJan. 10, 2020 — Public Policy Polling conducted a study of the Arizona electorate (Jan. 2-6; 760 registered Arizona voters) to test the highly important impending US Senate race between appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R) and retired astronaut Mark Kelly, the presumed Democratic nominee.
PPP also ran ballot tests involving President Trump paired individually against the major Democratic presidential contenders. Even though Arizona is a critical state in the 2020 presidential general election, the early projection numbers are not particularly salient because the contest has yet to begin in earnest, but the Trump results do provide a credibility foundation to analyze the PPP Senate numbers.
The Senate ballot test shows, as does every other previous survey of this race, that the McSally-Kelly battle is within the polling margin of error. The PPP numbers, at 46-42 percent in Kelly’s favor, project a four-point spread between the candidates, which is a bit more separation than revealed in past Arizona surveys.
Both Kelly and McSally have been near the top of national Senate fundraising charts, so it is clear that each will have plenty of resources to communicate their specific campaign messages in addition to expected independent expenditures that will come into the state to aid and attack both candidates. It is already clear that the Arizona Senate race will become a national campaign.
At this point, the Grand Canyon State campaign looks to be the Democrats’ best conversion opportunity, and a victory for them becomes even more important to offset what is likely a predicted loss for Sen. Doug Jones (D) in Alabama. With the Democrats needing a net gain of at least three seats, or four depending upon the presidential race outcome, every swing seat becomes critical for both parties.
Sen. McSally lost the open 2018 Senate race to then-fellow House member Kyrsten Sinema (D) by 55,900 votes statewide, a margin of 50-48 percent that also saw her drop the state’s two largest counties, Maricopa and Pima, by a total of 151,776 votes.
While Pima County, which ironically includes McSally’s home of Tucson, is Democratic, Maricopa, which encompasses the Phoenix metropolitan area and houses 60.6 percent of the state’s population, is politically marginal, and her under-performance there is the major reason she lost the race. While McSally managed to attract only 46.7 percent of the Maricopa vote, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey was simultaneously carrying the domain with a percentage figure nearly touching 56.
To win the 2020 election, Sen. McSally will need to improve her standing in the two major population counties. Together, Maricopa and Pima Counties house just under 75 percent of the Arizona population. The aggregate 2018 statewide results suggest that McSally’s performance fell below a Republican Party downturn. Despite losing the Senate race, the Republican ticket scored victories in four of the seven 2018 statewide campaigns even though all but Ducey’s percentages were below typical Republican benchmark results in what was for decades one of the most reliable GOP strongholds.
The PPP poll appears to contain a slight sample skew, but it is difficult to determine the extent to which either candidate might benefit particularly when comparing the Senate and presidential results. The respondent universe over-samples both major parties by approximately five percentage points when compared with actual voter registration numbers.
Conversely, the non-affiliated segment is under-sampled by almost nine points. Since the non-affiliated group favors the Democrats in every tested race according to the polling crosstabs, it’s possible that either the Kelly advantage is understated, or the Independent cell contains too many Democratic-leaning voters.
The Public Policy Polling Arizona presidential results find President Trump topping Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg individually by 1-3 percentage margins. Against former Vice President Joe Biden, the two candidates would tie at 46 percent. Since President Trump slightly prevails in almost every pairing, the same respondent sample then coming back to support Kelly dispels an argument that the sample contains a Republican skew.
We can expect to see many Arizona Senate polls released in the coming months, and presume that all of the results will be close. It is also probable that the actual vote will produce another razor-thin finish, similar to the concluded 2018 Sinema-McSally contest.