How blue is Arizona?

In an election full of uncertainties, the CSPRESS is breaking down the reasons behind this year’s unpredictable election results and what this means for Arizonans.

Claire Geare, Opinion Editor

Once a Republican stronghold, Arizona’s unprecedented shift to blue in this year’s tight election has left many Arizonans wondering: what changed?

For the first time in twenty-four years, Arizona’s eleven electoral college votes will be going to a democratic candidate. Arizona’s last “blue wave” was in 1996, when incumbent candidate Bill Clinton (D) beat out newcomer Bob Dole (R) by a fairly close margin. However, besides then, Arizona has been a Republican guarantee since 1952.

“I think because Arizona has a lot of rural areas, it’s not a huge urban city, so we have more voters who tend to lean right,” said Preston Sayegh, a junior.

The anomalous party switch in this year’s election is primarily due to Arizona’s changing demographics. For one, political groups have been working hard this year to ensure a large percentage of Latino voters show up to the polls. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Arizona has a 31 percent Latino population, with 24 percent being of eligible voting age. For years, only a fraction of eligible Latino voters have registered. Organizations like Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA) have been making strong efforts to increase the Latino vote, with a focus on preventing more anti-immigrant laws such as Proposition 300 and SB-1070. 

Seemingly, LUCHA’s efforts have been successful. Early exit polls from CNN and ABC estimate that Biden was favorable among Latino voters, and with such a narrow win in the state, it’s no doubt the Latino vote played an important role.

“With the voting rights act only being passed in 1965, I know it’s an uphill battle getting minorities registered to vote. These organizations are making good progress, though,” said Sophia Barnedo, a junior.

Another force driving voter turnout: Arizona’s Native American population. At one point this year, the Navajo Nation surpassed even New York in it’s COVID-19 numbers. This caused a large amount of the population to be upset with the Trump Administration’s handling of the virus. Arizona has a five percent Native American population, with a large portion of that being in Apache County, which voted overwhelmingly for Biden.

“I think that any group that has a shared heritage will more commonly share an interest voting-wise. The Navajo have unique challenges as a group that none of us see everyday. So these interests are more collectively voted on,” said Steven Mitten, an AP History teacher.

General political unrest also played a role in what’s being seen in Arizona’s exit polls. Phoenix became a hub for protests this summer, after two incidents of police brutality took place in the city. Black Lives Matter protests drove voter turnout, being led by minorities and young voters who are historically left-leaning and, ironically, unregistered. 

“The protests definitely made people vote blue. BLM got a lot of donation money, but a majority of it went to the Democratic Party. The social and political lines really blurred,” said Sayegh.

An additional factor in this election was Arizona’s increasing number of Californians. Analysis from the U.S Census Bureau’s data points out that Arizona is the number two relocation destination from California. Additionally, from 2010 to 2018, approximately 500,000 people moved from California to Arizona. The state’s large Democratic population made themselves known in the polls, likely contributing to the shift blue.

“I definitely think the influx of those moving from more left-leaning states affected this election. I mean, I moved here from the East Coast myself,” said Barnedo.

This unprecedented blue wave affected more than just the presidential vote. For the first time in 67 years, Arizona will have two Democratic senators. Former astronaut and political newcomer Mark Kelly will join Kyrsten Sinema, who was elected two years prior. He will replace Martha McSally, who has filled in for late senator John McCain since 2018.

While Kelly’s win is historical, it’s not necessarily a surprise. He marketed himself as a moderate, a voice unclouded by politics. He is also the husband of former House representative Gabby Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt in 2011, making him a trustworthy voice in the matters of gun control. Additionally, McSally’s campaign could not distance itself from the Trump administration, deterring independents in the state. 

“I actually like some of Kelly’s policies, it seems he’s willing to work with both parties fairly. That’s super important right now, cooperation, in such a divided state,” said Barnedo.

Another clear point of democratic influence is the passing of Propositions 207 and 208. Proposition 207 legalizes the recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 and over. It also allows the sale of marijuana with a 16 percent excise tax, where the money will be split between the state government agencies responsible for activities relating to the act, highways, community college districts, police departments, and fire departments. Additionally, the act has urged the majority of Arizona counties to drop marijuana-related charges, which historically affects minorities disproportionately. 

“I think the proposition was passed based on a generational vote, instead of on any specific data. There were a limited number of people in favor, in fact there were 101 letters from people against it. But it was bound to pass. I guess it just reflects a shift in voting demographics,” said Mitten.

Prop 207 passed with sixty percent of the vote, but the narrowly passed Prop 208 divided the state. Proposition 208, aka the Invest in Education Act, will impose a 3.5 percent tax on the top one percent earners in the state, with the revenue being distributed to teachers and education programs. The proposition comes after the #RedforEd movement in the state last year, which called for widespread education reform. 

“I don’t support Prop 208, since it’s unclear currently where exactly the money is going. If there was a more straightforward plan, I think it would be fine,” said Sayegh.

While Arizona’s shift to blue this election may seem uncalled for, it’s clear that this is the direction the state has been moving in for a long time. Grassroots programs like #RedforEd and LUCHA have worked for years to advocate education reform and increase minority voter turnout, and these are only a few programs among many. The presidential vote is no surprise either, with disagreements over the handling of COVID-19 causing Trump’s approval rating to drop below 40 percent this year. 

It’s important to analyze why such a drastic change has taken place now, but in all of the confusion it’s easy to forget that change happens over time.