I want to believe, I really do, but this poll released last night from the local ABC affiliate in Phoenix raises more questions than it provides answers. Despite a flurry of polls showing Kyrsten Sinema tied or leading within the margin of error this past week, the latest ABC15/OHPI poll shows Republican Martha McSally up — and up big at 52/45. The ABC15 report doesn’t offer much other detail about the poll, other than to say it’s being driven by Brett Kavanaugh and the caravan:
The exclusive ABC15 Arizona and OH Predictive Insights poll shows McSally with a seven-point lead with 52% of the vote compared to Sinema’s 45%.
Only 2% are undecided with 1% saying they’ll vote for Green Party candidate Angela Green. …
“If Kavanaugh didn’t happen I think it’d be an extremely tight race,” said chief pollster Mike Noble. “If not, I’d actually say the edge would go to Sinema but after seeing the polling – seeing the results – everything else – I think that McSally will end up winning coming election night.”
If you’re rooting for McSally, you’d better pray that OHPI has got the turnout model correct. Over the last two months, three of the five polls (out of 16 listed at RCP) giving McSally any lead at all came from OHPI. They’re also the only pollster to show her up over the margin of error in any poll.
So far, neither OHPI nor ABC15 has published its methodology for this specific survey. RCP lists it as using 600 likely voters with a margin of error of ±4.0%, which is certainly respectable for a statewide poll. Curiously, though, they also list the survey as having taken place October 22-23, which is well over a week ago. Why wait so long to publish those results, and are they even reflective of where the race stands now?
If Kavanaugh and caravans are fueling the Republican vote in Arizona, most other pollsters seem to have missed it. If anything, polling since September showed slight declines in support for both Sinema and McSally, who had earlier bounced upward. In my column today for The Week, I wonder whether the bitter GOP primary fight might be a bigger issue:
Even while Republicans fire off their oppo-research bombs at Sinema from her years as a far-left political activist (including video clips where Sinema denigrates Arizona voters), McSally does not seem to be making up ground. Even the withdrawal of an endorsement from the Arizona State Troopers Association didn’t seem to damage Sinema; an NBC/Marist poll five days later put her up six points.
Oddly, though, the GOP doesn’t have the same problem in its other high-profile statewide race. Incumbent GOP Gov. Doug Ducey has maintained double-digit leads over his Democratic challenger David Garcia in every poll over the past month. Ducey has captured over 50 percent of the respondents in the last six polls in RCP‘s aggregation, all the way back to a mid-September poll from NBC/Marist. Whatever is holding McSally back isn’t hampering Ducey, and whatever is keeping Sinema competitive isn’t helping Garcia. …
So what’s the problem with Republicans since the primary? McSally’s primary win came after a spectacularly bitter fight with two well-known Trump-supporting populists, former Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Dr. Kelly Ward. McSally didn’t just win on a vote-splitting fluke, though; she won a solid majority of the overall vote, almost double that of runner-up Ward at 55 percent to 28 percent. The primary fight reflected bitter divisions within the GOP that Trump and Flake exacerbated over the past two years, both inside and outside Arizona, and which at times involved the late McCain as well.
Polling numbers suggest that the party has not yet fully unified behind McSally after that messy primary, which largely left Ducey unscathed. Per a CBS/YouGov poll last week, 9 percent of Republican voters plan to back Sinema, while only 1 percent of Democrats support McSally. That wiped out a three-point edge for McSally among independents. Unless McSally can find a way to bring home those disaffected Republicans, Republicans may lose a seat they should have been able to hold.
Fox poll’s tie score and Reuters’ +2 might be more convincing than the OHPI surveys as evidence that McSally is starting to gain traction. So too are the early voting numbers that put Republicans ten points up on Democrats in turnout. Expect this to be a nail-biter on Election Night, though, and a very big problem for Republicans in 2020 for the open McCain seat if McSally can’t close the sale in the next few days.
Update: Jim Geraghty is more sanguine about McSally’s chances after reviewing the early vote data:
There are currently 3.7 million registered voters in Arizona. Of those who have voted early so far, 525,647 are registered Republicans and 413,005 are registered Democrats. Of the remainder, 8,250 are classified “minor parties” and 283,531 are classified “other” or unaffiliated.
If you assume that registered Republicans voted for Senate candidate Martha McSally and registered Democrats voted for Kyrsten Sinema in equal proportions, that gives McSally a 112,642-vote margin. That’s a sizable margin one week away from the election.
To pull even the early vote, Sinema would need to be winning the unaffiliated and minor-party voters by a roughly 70-30 split. Because there is a Green-party candidate (named, appropriately enough, Angela Green) and some of the state’s 6,463 registered members of the Green party no doubt voted for Green, Sinema would need to win the non-major-party vote by an even wider margin to pull even, maybe 71-29 or 72-28.
A bigger turnout on Election Day would only mitigate those numbers slightly — and don’t forget that independents in the CBS/YouGov poll were breaking slightly toward McSally. What’s puzzling, though, is why this isn’t being reflected in any other polling except OHPI’s.