Swing state analysis: Top issues for Arizona voters in the 2024 presidential election

Could Arizona be a repeat of 2020 and turn blue, once again, during the 2024 presidential election? It depends on who you ask.

The Grand Canyon State has long been considered reliably red and has almost exclusively chosen Republicans in presidential elections. But, experts say Arizona is transforming rapidly and increasingly becoming known as "purple" and a key battleground state ahead of the 2024 election.

"Arizona is absolutely, fully purple," David Byler, elections data expert and chief of research at Noble Predictive Insights, told FOX Television Stations, adding, "It's one of the most –  if not the most – purple states on the map." 

But this wasn’t always the case. Since the mid-20th century, the state of Arizona has voted Republican in every presidential election since Bill Clinton’s win in 1996 and most recently President Joe Biden’s win in 2020.

In fact, Biden and Clinton are the only Democratic candidates to have won the state in a presidential election since Democrat Harry S Truman was elected in 1948. 

Arizona fast facts

  • Population: 7.36 million
  • Registered Democrats: 1,192,205
  • Registered Republicans:1,434,982
  • Governor: Katie Hobbs (Democratic Party)
  • Electoral College votes: 11 (out of 270 needed to win)

How Arizona voted in 2016

Republican power was visible after the 2016 general election, when 41% of Arizona voters identified as conservative, 32% said they were moderate, and 27% identified as liberal, according to 2016 exit polls.

During the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Arizona 48.7% to 45.1%. Trump also had a big lead in Arizona among older voters. In 2016, more than half of Arizona voters age 65 and older said they had cast a ballot for him, according to The Associated Press.

According to FiveThirtyEight, a website dedicated to political polls and analysis, Democrats failed to win a statewide election in Arizona on any level after 2008.

That is, until 2018 when things changed.

How Arizona voted in 2018

In 2018, four Democratic candidates won in the state, including Kyrsten Sinema, the first Democrat to win a Senate race in Arizona since 1988.

"We saw in 2018 that our state is turning purple," Regina Romero, the first female and Latina mayor of Tucson, said after being elected to the position in 2019. Tucson, which is Arizona’s second largest city and considered Arizona’s more liberal counterpart, has had a Democratic mayor in office since 2011.

And experts say the purple status of Arizona has only grown deeper. 

How Arizona voted in 2020

Just two years later, during 2020’s Arizona Senate race, Democratic candidate Mark Kelly, the astronaut and husband to former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, beat Republican incumbent Martha McSally.

But it was Biden’s win in 2020 that many experts point to as a key indicator of the state’s "purple" status. Despite its narrow margin, Biden won the state by 0.3%, and his 49.4% support was the highest level for a Democratic candidate since 1964.

"I think the state actually turned purple," Thomas Volgy, a political science professor at the University of Arizona told FOX earlier this month. "President Biden carried the state against Donald Trump, but a lot of the other offices remained Republican, except for the ones at the very top. So we're seeing a constituency that is still wavering between red and blue." 

File: In an aerial view, the downtown skyline is seen on July 15, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

How Arizona has changed

But why? And, what has been causing Arizona’s leftward shift in recent years?

Experts say in-migration from neighboring states including California and the western region is likely having a significant impact.

"It's got to be playing a role," Volgy explained, adding, "In the past, we've had very, very strong in-migration, but it came mostly from the Midwest. Now it's a balance between the Midwest and and the West, with some migration coming from the East Coast, as well. And that has tended to alter the demographics and the political affiliations of people in some significant ways." 

Arizona’s population and demographics have also changed significantly over the past few decades.

According to Census.gov, Arizona’s population has shown rapid growth, increasing 3.8% between April 2020 and July 2023. That’s an increase of more than 273,000 people in the state in only three years. 

Of arguably even larger significance is the increase in Latinos in the state.

The Latino population, which makes up a major part of the Democratic base, has climbed in Arizona. Between 2000 and 2020, Latino population growth increased 84%, and currently, the Hispanic and Latino population makes up over one-third of Arizona’s population (32.5%) — an increase of about 6% since 2000.

Currently, about one-third of the state is Hispanic, 5% African American, 5% Native American and 4% Asian-American. The demographic trends indicate that Arizona could acquire majority-minority status over the next few years, joining only five other states with the designation.

Key issues in Arizona

Experts say Arizona’s growing purple status might mean that Trump and Biden may need to zero in on independents.  

"Arizona has in the last couple cycles become very competitive. Our state is basically split three ways between Republicans, Democrats and independents, and the independents have really become a key voter bloc that swings these elections," Daniel Scarpinato, the president of Winged Victory and former Chief of Staff for former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey told FOX. "Arizona truly is that bellwether state that will determine the presidential election and a lot of other key races." 

There are a couple of key issues at the top of Arizonans’ minds ahead of the upcoming elections, but none more so than abortion, immigration and inflation according to experts. 

"What the candidates really need to do: Aim these arguments at the small sliver of voters in the middle, many of whom aren't tuned into the election yet," Byler explained.

Key issue in Arizona: Immigration 

Immigration remains a concern among Arizona voters and is one of the biggest issues in this year’s presidential election, with exit polls showing it as a top concern among many Republican voters in early primaries.

"I think certainly immigration and border security is probably issue one, two and three right now. Certainly it's a national issue and it's right, right on our front doorstep," Scarpinato continued.

What Biden has said

In June, Biden announced plans to offer relief to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

The Biden administration said it will allow certain spouses of U.S. citizens without legal status to apply for permanent residency and, eventually, citizenship in the coming months, the White House said. Senior administration officials said the move could impact upwards of half a million immigrants.

The announcement came after Biden unveiled a sweeping crackdown at the U.S.-Mexico border earlier in June, which effectively halted asylum claims for those arriving between officially designated ports of entry. 

Details of his executive order included shutting down asylum processing along the border if illegal crossings averaged 2,500 per day – which was higher than the daily averages as of late. 

The restrictions went into effect until two weeks after the daily encounter numbers were at or below 1,500 per day between ports of entry, under a seven-day average. 

Immigrant rights groups have sued the Biden administration over the directive. Arrests for illegal crossings hit record highs in December but fell by nearly half in early 2024 to one of the lowest months under Biden’s presidency. 

What Trump has said

Trump has promised to launch a crackdown on immigration and even conduct mass deportations.

On his campaign website, it says: "Joe Biden turned our country into one giant sanctuary for dangerous criminal aliens when he suspended all immigration enforcement in the middle of a global pandemic and reversed landmark agreements that safely returned asylum-seekers to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The onslaught of illegal aliens invading our wide-open borders threatens public safety, drains the treasury, undermines U.S. workers, and burdens schools and hospitals." 

His campaign continued: President Trump will shut down Biden’s border disaster. He will again end catch-and-release, restore Remain in Mexico, and eliminate asylum fraud. In cooperative states, President Trump will deputize the National Guard and local law enforcement to assist with rapidly removing illegal alien gang members and criminals."

Key issue in Arizona: Inflation

Trump may have an edge over Biden on key economic concerns, according to an April poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs. The survey found that Americans were more likely to say that as president, Trump helped the country with job creation and cost of living. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans said that Biden’s presidency hurt the country on the cost of living.

"Inflation hits everyone – even if you're well-off enough to cope with high prices, you still feel the sticker shock," Byler explained. "It's consistently an extremely high priority issue, and it helps the GOP (Trump has trust on the economy)."

What Biden has said

Amid ongoing high inflation, Biden said in May that fighting inflation and lowering costs remained his "top economic priority." 

"I know many families are struggling, and that even though we’ve made progress we have a lot more to do," he said in a statement on May 15, touting that inflation has fallen more than 60% from its peak while president. 

He continued: "Prices are still too high – so my agenda will give families breathing room by building two million new homes to lower housing costs, taking on Big Pharma to lower prescription drug prices, and calling on grocery chains making record profits to lower grocery prices for consumers." 

Biden claimed Republicans want to slash taxes for ultra-wealthy and big corporations, raise taxes for middle-class families and protect special interests and Big Pharma.

"I have a different vision for the future: one in which we take on special interests to lower costs and give the middle class a fair shot," he added.

What Trump has said

Inflation was much lower under Trump, never topping an annual rate of 2.4%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The annual rate reached as high as 8% in 2022 under Biden and is currently at 3.4%

There are three major reasons experts say inflation was low during Trump’s presidency: the legacy of the 2008 financial crisis, Federal Reserve actions and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trump has previously told supporters that Americans have experienced significant price increases during the tenure of Biden, and Trump’s return to the White House would mean lower energy costs.

"One of the most vicious effects of the Biden Inflation Tax is how Crooked Joe has made it impossible for millions of Americans, especially YOUNG Americans, to buy a home, a car, or even make rent," Trump said, according to a report from The Hill. "High inflation means high prices, high interest rates, high mortgage rates, and death for the American Dream." 

Donald Trump pledged to double down on tax cuts if he won a second term as president, drawing a distinction with Biden who has called for tax hikes on businesses and the richest Americans.

"Instead of a Biden tax hike, I’ll give you a Trump middle class, upper class, lower class, business class big tax cut," Trump said at a rally in Wildwood on the New Jersey shore in May.

Previously Trump has said he plans the "largest deportation operation in American history," which may increase the cost of labor. He also intends to impose a new tariff on nearly all imported goods, which could raise their prices.

Key issue in Arizona: Abortion 

Abortion has proven to be a potent issue driving voters to the polls since the U.S. Supreme Court ended a constitutional right to the procedure two years ago. The issue could be pivotal in the presidential race and congressional contests this year.

In early April, Arizona’s Supreme Court voted to restore the 1864 law that provided no exceptions for rape or incest and allows abortions only if the mother’s life is in jeopardy. The majority opinion suggested doctors could be prosecuted and sentenced to up to five years in prison if convicted.

Democrats, who are the minority in the Legislature, struck back with the help of a handful of Republicans in the House and Senate to advance a repeal. 

What Biden has said

As a Catholic, Biden has previously admitted to his own struggles with the issue of abortions.

But more recently he has vowed he would work to restore "Roe v. Wade" as the "law of the land," defending the right to choose an abortion and attacking Trump for eroding reproductive rights.

Shortly after the Supreme Court issued a decision that overturned Roe, Biden spoke from the White House, forcefully defending the right to choose an abortion and calling on Congress to codify abortion rights.

"This is a sad day for the country, in my view, but it doesn’t mean the fight’s over," Biden said after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn "Roe." "Let me very clear and unambiguous: The only way we can secure a woman’s right to choose, a balance that existed, is for Congress to restore the protections of ‘Roe v. Wade’ as federal law."

Earlier this year, Biden signed executive orders that would ensure expanded access to contraception, abortion medication and emergency abortions at hospitals.

What Trump has said

Historically, Trump once supported abortion rights, but that changed with his 2016 White House run.

Trump said in a recent interview it should be left to the states whether to prosecute women for abortions or whether to monitor women’s pregnancies.

"You don’t need a federal ban," the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said in an interview published by "Time." "Roe v. Wade ... wasn’t about abortion so much as bringing it back to the states. So the states would negotiate deals. Florida is going to be different from Georgia and Georgia is going to be different from other places."

When asked if he would veto a bill that would impose a federal ban, he reiterated "it’s about states rights" and said "there will never be that chance" because Republicans, even if they take back the Senate in November, would not have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and bring the bill to a vote.

Trump has previously said he supports abortion exceptions for rape, incest and the life and health of a woman.

Will Arizona turn blue again?

Who will win Arizona? The prediction is not unanimous among experts.

"The polls are accurately measuring what's happening today, and right now Trump is ahead. That might change, but that's where it is today," Byler said. 

Volgy added: "The big kicker is obviously the big elephant in the room, which is that he [Trump] is now a convicted felon. The polls show that 10% of Republicans are saying they will never vote for a convicted felon. But, more importantly, in Arizona, where the largest grouping is made up of independents, 25% of independents say that they will never vote for a convicted felon. So when you add those numbers together, I would say that if the election were held today, at this moment, Trump would lose and Biden would win in a close contest." 

And while it remains unclear whether Arizona will turn blue again, most experts do agree that it will be a tight race come November. 

"Everything is going to play a role in this upcoming election. I'm assuming that’s what's going to happen this year. It’s going to be very similar to what happened four years ago, which is a very, very tight race. So when you're coming down to a presidential race in the state that gets determined by a few thousand votes. Virtually everything matters," Volgy added. 

"I think President Trump is very well positioned here right now," Scarpinato said, adding, "So I think that I'd rather be in his shoes than be in President Biden's shoes. And I think if the election were held today, than there's no question that President Trump would win the election."

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This story was reported from Los Angeles.