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538 swing state series Part 1: How Arizona became a swing state

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538 is diving into the expected swing states of 2020. I'm planning to update this whenever I see a new part uploaded.


Arizona's is interesting because of where the Democratic areas and Republican areas are and why it's become a swing state.





In the 2008 and 2012 presidential races, the state was 16 points and 13 points more Republican-leaning than the country as a whole, respectively. Of course, the Republican candidate in 2008 was then-Arizona Sen. John McCain, who probably enjoyed home-field advantage.

But in 2016, President Trump won Arizona by only 4 points, making the state just 6 points more Republican-leaning than the nation.2 And in 2018, four Democratic candidates broke through and won statewide, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

Now, in 2020, Joe Biden looks like he has a chance to actually win Arizona’s 11 electoral votes. As of June 29, Biden led Trump by 4.7 points in our Arizona polling average. And it looks like Democrats could flip another Senate seat here too, as Democrat Mark Kelly leads Republican Sen. Martha McSally by double digits in numerous polls.

Much of that is because of an extremely pro-Democratic national environment; according to our polling averages, Arizona is still a bit more Republican-leaning than the nation as a whole (4.6 points more Republican-leaning, to be precise). But if the final election results were to exactly match our current polling averages, it would still represent the third consecutive presidential election where Arizona has moved left.


What's driving the shift:



Arizona’s Latino population is swelling. The state has gone from 25 percent to 31 percent Latino since 2000. That said, the white population share in Arizona is still much higher (currently 55 percent). And many of Arizona’s Latinos are ineligible to vote



So this trend alone doesn’t explain Arizona’s sudden competitiveness, even though the Latino share of the electorate is slowly but surely increasing (it rose by 2 points from 2012 to 2016). The bigger factor at play is one that is not unique to Arizona, either: The movement of suburban voters from Republicans to Democrats since the 2016 election.


Democrats' strongholds in the state aren't in city centers, which is the case for most of the rest of the country.



Politically, culturally and economically, Arizona is dominated by Maricopa County, which covers Phoenix and its sprawling metropolitan area. In the last several elections, Maricopa has consistently accounted for about 60 percent of the votes cast in Arizona, which means that the candidate who wins Maricopa usually wins Arizona.

And for years, it was a Republican. Unlike in many states, the most Democratic parts of Arizona actually lay outside its biggest metropolis: Apache County (which includes much of the Navajo Nation and is 75 percent Native American), Coconino County (home of Flagstaff), Pima County (home of Tucson) and Santa Cruz County (a poor, rural county that is 83 percent Latino). As a result, Democrats consistently did better in the rest of Arizona than they did in Maricopa — where most of the votes were.




What Maricopa County is:



Because of its size, Maricopa is home to all sorts of areas, from heavily Latino and Black South Phoenix to historically Mormon Mesa to the college town of Tempe to retirement communities like Sun City. But the county’s transformation has been led by upper-class suburban enclaves like Ahwatukee, Scottsdale and Paradise Valley. According to data from Daily Kos Elections, the state legislative districts where Clinton improved on Obama’s performance the most also tended to be highly college-educated and have high median incomes.


Basically, Arizona’s urban vs. rural divide is deepening, just like the rest of the nation’s. But because Arizona is one of the most urbanized states in the country, that’s a good trade for Democrats. In fact, according to an analysis based on FiveThirtyEight’s urbanization index, if Arizona’s density had been the only factor in how it voted, it would have voted for Clinton by 6 points.


Here's 2008 vs 2016 by county.






And here's 2008 vs 2016 by district:





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That would have been awesome.


Anyway, not too surprising as the area is growing like crazy and speaking with the locals, a lot of things simply weren't here 20-30 years ago. When I got here I remarked that Chandler looked like it was built yesterday. Well more like 10 years ago since it has that late 2000's style to it, but there are a lot of areas where damn near everything is new, or built within the last 10-20 years. 

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