Arizona, the Grand Canyon State, has been a reliable Republican stronghold in America’s presidential races since the 1950’s. Democratic presidential candidates have carried the state only 8 times out of 27 elections, and 4 of those victories belong to a single candidate, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
All told, only four Democrats have ever won Arizona at the presidential level. Bill Clinton’s victory there in 1996 offered a momentary reprieve from a 44-year losing streak for the Democratic Party, and no Democratic nominee for president has won the state since. Hillary Clinton outperformed the average Democratic candidate, almost matching President Obama’s 2008 performance of 45 percentage points, when she lost Arizona to Donald Trump by 3.5 points in 2016 with 44.6 percent of the vote.
The Arizona congressional delegation began the 21st century in the 106th Congress with 6 members and a 5-1 Republican majority. The political makeup gradually trended Democratic as the state’s congressional districts increased to 9. Though the Republican Party generally held a majority, Democrats have secured slim majorities in recent history, including between 2009-2011 and 2013-2015. Following the midterm elections of 2018, the Democratic Party holds a 5-4 majority in the Arizona delegation.
Recent history has shown these slim Democratic majorities have not always aligned with greater national trends. The 5-4 Democratic majority between 2013-2015, for example, existed in the midst of an 8-year majority for Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Senate seats have historically followed the same course as presidential elections. In the state’s early days its senators were primarily Democratic, but with the election of Republican Barry Goldwater in 1952 and the retirement of Carl Hayden in 1969 – after serving an impressive 7 terms – the Republicans asserted themselves and Democrats became an exception. The recent election of Kyrsten Sinema, who won her race by 2.4 points, marked the first time in 31 years that Arizonans elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate.
As with presidential and senatorial electoral history in Arizona – that is to say, starting with a Democratic streak and eventually becoming dominated by Republicans – so too goes the governorship and many other statewide offices. Janet Napolitano was the first Democratic governor elected since 1988. Following her resignation to serve in the Obama Administration as Secretary of Homeland Security, which allowed then Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer to succeed to the governorship, Republican candidates have since secured the governorship by comfortable margins: earning 54 percent of the state’s vote in 2010, 53 percent in 2014, and 56 percent in 2018.
The population of Arizona more than doubled between 1980 and 2008, and Latinos accounted for nearly 2/5 of that growth. Not only is the Latino population growing in Arizona, but so is its size in relation to other ethnic groups. The Latino population grew to 30 percent from 16 percent between 1980 and 2008, while the share of white Arizonans from 75 percent to 58 percent. In 2018, 23 percent of eligible voters in Arizona were Latino, and according to Pew Research they voted for Democratic candidates at both the senatorial and gubernatorial level by significant margins.
An additional demographic not to be overlooked is the rural population. Though Arizona has ample rural geography, compared to other “rural states” the population living in these areas is relatively small at only 4.9 percent. But this small number can still hold significant sway in high turnout elections, as was demonstrated during the 2018 midterms where approximately 26 percent of ballots cast were by rural voters.