A big lesson from last year’s midterm election was that assumptions based on a limited view of data and history made for some very wrong prognostications. Most of the analysis done in the lead up to the election was based on the idea that history would repeat itself and there would be a huge red wave.
As I pointed out numerous times on air and in a few columns, an objective look at polling and data showed that while history is important it isn’t determinative. And this is especially true in incredibly disruptive times and when many voters believe democracy is threatened. As early as March of 2022 the poll data showed that Democrats were performing much better than expected on generic ballot questions and they were winning voters who somewhat disapproved of President Biden. This dynamic held throughout the summer and fall, and on election day the results reflected what a few of us had been shouting in the wilderness, “there would be no red wave”.
So let’s look today at another emerging election where too many in the news media and punditocracy are making some faulty assumptions and this has to do with the United States Senate race in Arizona for 2024.
Senator Sinema has decided to become an Independent and if she runs for re-election faces a huge uphill battle. She switched to Independent from Democrat because she is now viewed overwhelmingly negative among Democratic voters. Interestingly, she is also viewed unfavorably among non-aligned or independent voters. The only group of voters where she has a breakeven rating is among Republican voters, but she isn’t positioned or popular enough to win either party’s primary.
Democratic progressive Congressman Ruben Gallego today has thrown his hat in the ring for this Arizona Senate race. He is incredibly popular among Democrats and looks to win a primary by huge margins against any opposition including Sinema if she had stayed a Democrat. So let’s take a look at where things stand today in this important Senate as shown by various polls.
The assumptions so far by many is that 1) Sinema as an independent is positioned well in general election, and 2) if Sinema runs then she will draw more support from a Democrat in the race than the Republican (who it seems it increasing likely to be former Republican candidate for Governor Kari Lake). Both of these assumptions are wrong according to an analysis of the polling data which exists today.
Arizona is now one of the swingiest of swing states and nearly every statewide general election there will be decided by a percent or two. The election results of the recent midterm showed a few thousand votes decided the races for nearly every statewide office. So we can expect this race in 2024, as well as the Presidential race in Arizona, to be exceedingly close. In fact, Sinema herself won her election by only 2% of the vote, and the averages of Arizona polls had her Senate race dead-even up till election day in 2018.
The polling today shows Sinema polling under 20 percent against Gallego and Lake, well behind both. In fact, it is likely she would finish this race in November with around 15% of the vote, — a serious drubbing against the Democrat and the Republican. Sinema, if Gallego and Lake (or some other GOP candidate) run, cannot win a statewide race as an Independent.
In the polls done with all three candidates in the race, it shows a statistical tie today between Gallego and Lake, with, as mentioned above, Sinema finishing well behind. And if you exclude Sinema from the ballot question, Gallego and Lake are also tied. So Sinema doesn’t draw votes from the Democrat in any larger proportion than she does from the Republican candidate. This makes sense because she is more unpopular today among Democratic voters than she is among Republican voters.
Now that we have dispelled those assumptions, let’s dispel one more: the idea progressives can’t win statewide in swing states. In 2022, a progressive candidate won the Senate race in Pennsylvania, a progressive candidate won statewide in the Senate race in Georgia, progressive candidates won statewide in Michigan, and progressive candidates just won statewide in Arizona.
Candidates who stand for progressive issues can win statewide in swing states, but they must be culturally aligned with the majority of the citizens. The progressive candidates who lost in 2022 in swing states were viewed as out of step with the citizens of that state, not on issue sets, but from a stand point of understanding and connecting with a majority of folks values and daily lives.
Will Gallego win? I have no idea because it depends on the campaign he runs and how he connects with a majority of voters, but the good news for him is that he starts out this race in roughly the same position as Sinema in 2018. But one thing is clear, Sinema is unlikely to be a U.S. Senator after the 2024 election, and Gallego isn’t hurt by whether or not she stays in the race as an Independent.