Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, are in the swing state of Arizona on Thursday, and so is Vice President Mike Pence.
Their presence underscores the importance of the state to the path to the presidency in November. And while Arizona hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential nominee since 1996, this year looks different.
Right now, Biden should be considered the favorite to become only the second Democrat since 1948 to carry the Grand Canyon state. Democrats also appear favored to flip the seat in the state’s special Senate election.
A look at the polls reveals that Biden has a clear advantage in Arizona. While some polls are even better for him, the average of all the polls has him up about five points.
View Trump and Biden head-to-head polling.
More interestingly, the state has never really become close over the last six months. Biden’s lead has never dropped below 3 points. It’s been a state that has been leaning his direction this entire time.
That’s very different from what happened during the 2016 campaign. With a few exceptions, now President Donald Trump led throughout the final months of the 2016 election.
The addition of Arizona to the swing state column opens up Electoral College possibilities that would keep Biden in the game, even if he lost some important swing states earlier in the night. I’ve noted before that he could still get to 270 electoral votes without winning Florida or Pennsylvania, if he wins the states Hillary Clinton won, as well as Arizona, Michigan, Nebraska’s Second Congressional District and Wisconsin. (Nebraska awards an electoral vote to the winner of each of its congressional districts.)
At the same time, Democrats are looking strong in the state’s Senate race. Democrat Mark Kelly has been consistently ahead of appointed Republican Sen. Martha McSally in the polls. The clear majority of surveys have Kelly up by at least five points, and he looks to be a bigger favorite than even Biden.
That’s quite the turnaround from four years ago, when Republican John McCain easily won his final term in the Senate. Unlike in 2016, Democrats, who need a net pickup of 3 seats for Senate control (if Biden takes the presidency), are counting on Arizona to be one of their linchpins.
The factors driving the big differences between the 2016 campaign and this one in Arizona are both obvious and more subtle. With Biden doing better than Clinton did nationally, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s doing better in Arizona too. Clinton only lost Arizona by four points. Just by the mere fact that he’s outperforming Clinton’s national performance, you’d expect him to be leading in Arizona.
The national environment being more blue benefits Kelly as well.
The state, though, has some unique demographics that make it even more primed for a Democratic pickup than the national movement. Arizona’s population has become a lot more diverse over the last couple of decades, as FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich points out. Less than 70% of likely voters this year are White, while 20% were Hispanic in a recent New York Times/Siena College poll. Hispanics, of course, are more Democratic leaning than White voters.
Perhaps more importantly, Arizona is heavily urban and suburban. The rural population in the state is a mere 10%, according to the US Census. That puts it well below the nation’s 19%. With rural areas becoming increasingly Republican and urban areas becoming increasingly Democratic, it makes a lot of sense that Arizona is going to the left.
But it’s not just Arizona lacks the rural areas that have moved to the right, it’s the type of voters within the urban and suburban areas in Arizona. They tend to be more culturally upscale. One measure for this is the percentage of the population that lives near upscale chains, according to the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman.
Arizona is the only state of the six closest Trump won in 2016 that had a higher share of the vote in these upscale markets than the nation as a whole. These are the types of places that moved heavily against Trump relative to other places in 2016.
You see this very well in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and most of the state’s voters. Maricopa has been running heavily to the left the last few elections, including in 2018 when Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema carried it on her way to becoming the state’s first Democrat to win a Senate race since 1988. This year polls show Democrats winning it easily.
Build your own road to 270 electoral votes with CNN’s interactive map.
Indeed, Biden and Kelly wouldn’t be doing anywhere near as well in Arizona if they weren’t winning historically Republican voters. The state still has more registered Republicans than Democrats.
Biden and Kelly, though, seem to be doing exactly that. Polls show them winning a larger share of registered Republicans than Trump is Democrats, and they’re both dominating among voters unaffiliated with either party.
They’re helped by the state’s above average senior (age 65 and older) and Mormon vote. These are two traditionally Republican blocs that have become less Republican during the time Trump has led the Republican Party.
All of these factors together have pushed Arizona from red to purple and now it seems likely to blue in 2020.