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Mark Kelly has edge in Arizona Senate race that hinges on abortion, economy, immigration — CBS News Battleground Tracker

Denial of 2020 election shapes key Arizona races
Denial of 2020 election shapes key Arizona races 02:25

Arizona is another battleground where strong opposing forces underpin the race.

Democratic candidates enjoy stronger personal ratings, while Republican voters are thinking more about national Senate control. There's a tough economy and desire for tougher border controls helping Republicans, versus abortion helping Democrats. 

And in this state that was so close in 2020, election denialism does not find favor beyond a handful of those in the Republican base – nor do voters want it to be a campaign focus.

What's working in Democratic Senator Mark Kelly's favor is the majority approval of his job performance and the fact that he is personally liked. In fact, he is the most personally liked of the four statewide candidates tested for Senate and governor. By contrast, over six in 10 dislike how Blake Masters handles himself personally. 

Also, Kelly has support from those who want abortion to be legal — which most voters do.

However, while abortion is important to Democrats, it does not rank as highly among voters overall, compared to the economy, inflation, or immigration here. And Democrats face a deficit on those items. 

The economy and immigration are central, and voters hold negative views of the economy —    both Arizona's and the nation's. That is aiding the Republican candidates: they're winning voters who say these issues are paramount. 


Two key issues driving the Senate race: Abortion and immigration

Like Democratic candidates elsewhere, Kelly enjoys a wide lead among voters who say abortion is very important, but that advantage is countered somewhat by voters who emphasize immigration.

Immigration ranks third in the state as being "very important" (higher than it does nationally), just behind the economy and inflation. And among voters saying immigration is very important, Masters leads big, helping keep the race close.


Kelly enjoys a bit of crossover voting from Republicans, with about one in 10 backing him, similar to the level he won over in 2020. In this case, he's more likely to get support from Republicans who think abortion ought to be legal than from those who don't.

Abortion: Most want it legal, oppose criminalizing it

In the wake of the ruling by a judge to reinstate a law that bans virtually all abortions in the state, most voters would have abortion be legal in all or most cases in Arizona — and majorities of voters would not criminalize it. 

Women, more so than men, say an illegal abortion should not result in a criminal penalty for the women who have the procedure, the doctors and medical staff, or anyone who helped the woman pay for or obtain the abortion. 


There is some division among Republicans on this. Roughly half would not penalize a woman for having the abortion, even as many oppose the procedure, but most would favor criminal penalties for a doctor for performing an abortion. 

That said, a 57% majority of self-identified "MAGA" Republicans would subject a woman having an abortion to criminal penalties, along with even higher support for punishing doctors and medical providers and anyone who paid for it. 


Voters who want abortion legal are more likely than those who don't to prioritize it as a voting issue, and these voters are backing Kelly over Masters. As we've seen elsewhere, abortion is also a top issue for Democratic voters here in Arizona.

Most Arizona voters think Kelly will support policies to protect abortion access, and most think Masters will support policies to restrict it.


There is a distinct gender gap. Kelly has a big lead with women, and Masters has a double-digit lead with men. Kelly also leads with younger voters and Hispanic voters. Masters is ahead with older voters, White voters, and evangelicals.


Immigration: Close to home and changing home; voters want tougher border security

When asked directly about securing the border, more voters think Masters would support policies that make the border more secure than say that about Kelly.


Just over half of Arizona voters say immigration has changed the area where they live at least some in recent years, and a large majority who say so say it's changed for the worse.


Voters who feel this way place a great deal of importance on the issue of immigration. Nine in 10 of them say it's very important in their 2022 vote, and they are heavily backing Republican candidates in both the Senate and gubernatorial races here.

Overall though, a majority of Arizona voters feel most of those trying to cross the border are motivated by a search for jobs and better lives. But just the same, they would have the U.S. be tougher on those trying to cross the border. This is driven by Republicans who overwhelmingly feel this way, and a smaller majority of independents. More Hispanic voters also want the U.S. to be tougher than easier on those trying to cross the border.


As in other battleground states and nationally, the economy and inflation in Arizona are top issues for voters, and the Republican candidates lead among voters who call these issues very important.


As with most midterm elections, this one is at least partly a referendum on the current president. More Arizona voters say their Senate vote is to oppose President Joe Biden than to support him. His approval rating here among registered voters is 39%, which is lower than his most recent national number. 

Election denialism: Not paramount, but still holding sway among the GOP

Outright election denialism finds little resonance with voters in Arizona: fewer than one in five Arizona voters want their elected officials to say that Mr. Biden is not the legitimate winner of the 2020 contest. 

Many don't care either way, though. Moreover, the 2020 election isn't anywhere near the top issues they want candidates talking about — it pales in comparison to the economy and immigration among other topics.

Yet it still might be affecting the race a bit, in terms of what GOP candidates are seen talking about — at least as a distraction from other issues.

For example, independents who say they've been hearing Blake Masters talking about the 2020 election are less likely to be voting for him than those who say they've heard him talking about the economy. And they're more likely to call him "extreme," instead of "mainstream."

And election denialism might still be a key test among some in the GOP base. 

For Republicans to whom an official's stance does matter, denialism is still more of the draw than acceptance: by a 4 to 1 ratio, they'd prefer officials who said Biden didn't legitimately win to those who said he did.


Looking ahead, the vast majority of Arizonans want their governor to accept the results of future elections, no matter which party is the winner.

However, three in 10 Republicans say the next governor should challenge and investigate elections when Democrats win — and they overwhelmingly back Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake.

The governor's race 

While the Democratic candidate has a slim three-point edge in the race for Senate, the Arizona governor's race is even between Democrat Katie Hobbs and Lake.


Lake — who does not have the extra hurdle of running against an incumbent — is generally better liked than her Republican counterpart running for Senate. Lake trails Hobbs by nine points among Arizona registered voters on how she handles herself personally, but this is far better than the 20-point deficit Masters has against Kelly on this measure. 


When asked whether each of the four candidates' positions were "mainstream" or "extreme," Lake is viewed as extreme by slightly fewer Arizona voters than Blake Masters is, though both are more likely to be seen as extreme than their Democratic opponents.


Here again, we see a familiar Democratic advantage on abortion as very important, while voters who are most concerned about immigration and the economy favor the Republican candidate.

Lake's tighter contest, compared to Masters', is partly described by ever-so-slight differences like a slightly smaller gender gap, slightly less attrition from her own party, plus those comparably better favorability ratings. 

This CBS News/YouGov Battleground Tracker survey was conducted with a statewide representative sample of 1,164 registered voters in Arizona interviewed between September 30-October 4, 2022. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education and geographic region based on the U.S. Census Current Population Survey, as well as to 2020 presidential vote. The margin of error is ±3.8 points. 


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