What’s on Arizona voters’ minds? Inflation, abortion and threats to democracy

Voters wait in line to cast their vote at the Indian Bend Wash Visitor Center in Scottsdale on Aug. 2, 2022.
Ronald J. Hansen
Arizona Republic

Inflation and the economy is the top concern for likely Arizona voters, but together abortion rights and threats to democracy essentially match it, suggesting neither party has a lock on political energy heading into the state’s midterm elections, according to a new poll for The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com.

Those polled generally disapproved of President Joe Biden’s performance in the White House, see the state as headed in the wrong direction and narrowly think the FBI searched former President Donald Trump’s residence because he broke the law, not because of political considerations.

A startling 70% of respondents — with overwhelming majorities in both parties – believe democracy in the United States is at risk of failing, though perhaps for different reasons.

Arizonans, it seems, remain as politically divided as in 2020, when the state provided the closest presidential results in the country. 

Across a spectrum of races and issues, voters break sharply based on political party, gender, education and ethnicity. That demographic matrix points to an election far from settled as early voting in the state is getting underway.

More poll results:Tight contest between Hobbs, Lake | Who’s ahead in Kelly-Masters Senate race?

The findings are part of a Suffolk University/Arizona Republic and azcentral.com poll of 500 residents on cell and landline phones conducted between Sept. 21 and Sept. 25. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points overall.

The poll found that 32% identified inflation and the economy as their top issue this year. Another 17% each said abortion and threats to democracy were their top concerns.

Other issues, such as education, election fraud, climate change and public safety, were distant concerns.

“Two-thirds of the electorate in November care about those three issues,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “That pretty much is an all-encompassing configuration.”

Within those priorities, there is a substantial gender gap, he said. About 41% of men see inflation as the top political issue. From there, 16% of men rate threats to democracy as a top worry and 10% cited abortion as their biggest issue.

"Women, it’s a different story,” he said. A quarter of women rate inflation as the top issue, but 24% picked abortion.

“So you get the lay of the land right off the bat in terms of the gender balance,” Paleologos said. “Through it all, inflation and the economy … is the No. 1 issue for both men and women.” 

“Where the rubber hits the road is independents,” he said. Whichever candidates can bring focus to the issues that independents care about the most have the best chances of winning, Paleologos said. 

Abortion rights a big issue in the general election 

Most respondents said their views of abortion rights will guide their electoral choices in November.

Asked to rate how important the issue of abortion is in their voting decisions this year on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 means abortion won’t factor into their thinking at all, 44% gave it a 10.

Women had the most intense views on the issue, the poll found. 

Among Democratic women, 72% rated it a 10, with 6% saying it won’t matter to them at all. 

For Republican women, the issue is evenly divided: 37% gave it a 10, while 35% rated it a 1. 

For independent women, 49% gave it a 10, while 20% rated it a 1.

Both sides see democracy as threatened

The most lopsided sentiment in the poll came on the issue of democracy, where 70% of respondents said they believe democracy in the United States is at risk of failing. Just one-quarter of those polled said they think the nation’s democracy is in safe standing.

Three-quarters of Democrats and Republicans share the same sentiment, but partisan splits in other races and topics suggest it could be for different reasons. 

Though it wasn’t polled, Democrats tend to see Trump and GOP-led efforts to sidestep official voting results from 2020 as a threat to democracy. By contrast, many Republicans believe Democrats stole the 2020 election and continue to see election fraud as a threat to democracy.

One of the choices respondents had as a top issue is election fraud, which is tied more clearly with Republican messaging. That pulled in 5%.

How do Arizona voters rate top leaders?

Respondents weighed in on how they view various political figures in Arizona.

About 43% had a favorable view of Biden and 51% had an unfavorable view of him, giving him a net -8% rating. Trump’s rating was about -20%.

Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., had a net 8% rating. His opponent, Republican Blake Masters was -7%.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs has a 12% rating and Kari Lake, her Republican challenger, is at -5%. 

But many people — about a quarter overall — didn’t know who Hobbs, the Arizona secretary of state, is or had no opinion of her. By comparison, fewer than 13% had not formed a view of Lake, who widely is recognized as the longtime former anchor for Fox 10 in Phoenix.

Outgoing Gov. Doug Ducey had a -9% rating well into his second term, with another 9% unsure how they view him. 

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., was at -3%, but 23% were unsure what they make of her. She is not up for reelection until 2024 but has been at the center of news throughout the year over her support for the legislative filibuster and her role in brokering key national legislation that proceeded or died because of her.

How do Arizona voters view Biden, the economy?

Apart from how they view the people, those polled also weighed in on how they view Biden’s job performance and how the state is faring.

More than half, 53%, disapprove of how Biden is doing as president. Another 41% approve of his job, with nearly 6% undecided.

Nearly half, 49%, believe Arizona is on the wrong track, compared with 31% who think it is on the right track. Notably, 19% were undecided about the state’s direction.

The FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida for classified records, including top secret information, produced a clearer partisan split. 

By a 50-42 margin, respondents believe the search happened because of evidence Trump committed a crime compared with a desire to harm his political career.

But there is a strong partisan component to those views. 

Among Democrats, 92% believe the search happened because of an apparent crime by Trump. Meanwhile, 82% of Republicans believe it was based on a desire to hurt his political prospects. Nearly half of independents, 49%, think it was evidence-based, while 34% think it was politically motivated.

Whatever the reason for the search, 54% approved of it. Forty percent disapproved. About the same majority think Biden had advance knowledge of the search, although Biden has said he did not.

Arizonans sounded a dismal note on the economy.

Just 15% said they have a better standard of living now than they had two years ago, while 48% said their living standard is worse now. More than a third, 36%, said it was about the same.

About 19% said Arizona’s economic conditions are good, 48% said they are fair, and 30% said they are poor. Just 2% rated the state’s economy as excellent.

Despite a partisan-led review of Maricopa County’s 2020 ballots last year many still trust the state’s election systems.

Using a 10-point scale, with 1 being not at all trustworthy, 29% gave it a 10, the best rating. It was the single most common answer. Another 21% gave it at least an 8.

At the other end, 17% gave the system a 3 or lower, reflecting a lack of trust in the system.

On average, respondents gave the system a 6.8 out of 10.

Reach the reporter Ronald J. Hansen at ronald.hansen@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4493. Follow him on Twitter @ronaldjhansen.

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