Arizona ballot audit shows signs of backfiring on GOP
When Arizona Republicans first pushed for a partisan audit of the 2020 presidential ballots cast in the Phoenix metropolitan area, they argued that they needed to know if any irregularities or fraud caused President Trump to lose this rapidly evolving swing state.
But the audit itself could be damaging Republican prospects, according to a new Bendixen & Amandi International poll, which shows roughly half of Arizona voters oppose the recount effort. In addition, a narrow majority favors President Biden in a 2024 rematch against Trump.
The news isn’t entirely promising for Democrats, however: A majority of voters don’t think Biden should run for a second term.
Trump has cheered on the Maricopa County audit and continued to advance baseless conspiracy theories about election fraud as Republicans from other states he lost have made pilgrimages to Phoenix to review the idea of exporting the concept. But Arizona Republicans who pay close attention to the state’s changing demographics say the audit isn’t a political winner.
“It’s a failure. It’s a joke,” said Sean Noble, a top GOP operative in the state, advising Republicans elsewhere to “avoid it. The election is long over, time to look forward.”
Noble said public opinion surrounding the audit is just too baked in to change, even though the firm that conducted the effort, Cyber Ninjas, hasn’t finished its work. On Friday, Cyber Ninjas announced its team had finished photographing and recounting the 2.1 million Maricopa County ballots.
The final report is widely expected to make claims about election fraud, reflecting the politics of Cyber Ninja’s founder — he appeared in a conspiracy theorist’s documentary film rife with falsehoods, according to Arizona press reports.
By 49-46 percent, Arizona voters are opposed to the audit, which puts the result within the poll’s margin of error. But the survey of 600 likely voters found that the intensity of opposition to the audit exceeded the intensity of support, with those strongly opposed to it outnumbering those strongly in favor by 5 percentage points. And while Democrats and Republicans broke along familiar partisan lines, independent voters upon whom the state pivots in close elections opposed the audit by 18 percentage points.
“As bloody red meat for the MAGA Republican base, the audit is manna from heaven, but the problem is that Arizona is not a red state any more. It’s a swing state,” said Fernand Amandi, who conducted the survey. “The audit may be serving two interests: firing up the MAGA base but giving Democrats the opportunity to make the case to Arizona voters to stick with them.”
If a candidate supports the audit, the poll shows, Arizona voters would be less likely to support that politician by a margin of 9 percentage points.
Bendixen & Amandi International typically surveys for Democrats and accurately forecast Trump’s reelection troubles in Arizona more than a year before the 2020 vote. A Florida poll the firm conducted before the election also accurately warned Democrats that Hispanic voters in Miami-Dade County were leaning more strongly toward Trump than many expected.
Arizona opposition to the audit grew wider — with 51 percent against it and 44 percent in favor — when respondents were informed about the partisan nature of the effort: it’s being conducted by a firm with no experience in the field, and election experts, Democratic officials and Republican members of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors oppose the recount. Those opponents have pointed out that the voting machines have already been checked by an accredited firm and that the election results were validated by a previous audit.
The new polling numbers are similar to a May poll from Arizona-based High Ground Inc., which tends to survey for Republicans, that found 55 percent opposed the audit and 41 percent supported it. That survey also found that, by an 11-point margin, Arizona voters would be less likely to support a candidate who backed the audit.
In Amandi’s poll, Biden’s favorability rating is almost equally divided, with 49 percent holding positive views of him and 48 percent with a negative view. Trump is in negative territory, with 46 percent holding a favorable opinion and 51 percent a negative opinion of him.
In a head-to-head rematch in Arizona, the poll shows, Biden edges Trump by 51-44 percent. The poll, which was conducted June 17 through June 23, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The results don’t necessarily mean Arizonans want Biden to run again. Just over five months into his first year in office, only 37 percent of Arizona voters surveyed said Biden deserves a second term, while 53 percent say he does not. Fueling those numbers: strong Republican opposition to the president, relatively tepid Democratic support and double-digit opposition from independents.
“If Biden is interested in running for reelection and capturing Arizona’s Electoral College votes, paradoxically, he may want a rematch against Donald Trump,” said Amandi, who wouldn’t speculate about the causes behind Biden’s weak reelection numbers.
Noble, the Republican operative from Arizona, said he believes the 78-year-old president’s reelection numbers are “driven almost entirely by his age and cognitive ability. People are fine with him as president now, but they can’t imagine it in the future.”
The poll also gauged the popularity of the state’s Republican governor and its two Democratic senators.
Gov. Doug Ducey is slightly under water, with 47 percent holding a favorable impression and 49 percent holding an unfavorable view. Ducey, who refused Trump’s entreaties to try to overturn the results of the November election and has been as silent as he can about the audit, was viewed favorably by 72 percent of Republicans compared to 25 percent who viewed him unfavorably. Among independents, the governor was viewed unfavorably by 52 percent and favorably by 43 percent. He is term-limited and cannot seek reelection next year.
The Democratic senators, both of whom were elected in the Trump era, are in better shape.
Sen. Mark Kelly, who faces reelection next year, is viewed favorably by 48 percent of voters and unfavorably by 41 percent. His job approval rating is slightly better, with 51 percent approving and 35 percent disapproving.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is viewed favorably by 50 percent and unfavorably by 37 percent, essentially identical to her job-approval numbers.
Sinema has become a magnet for progressive criticism because of her refusal to scrap the filibuster, which essentially requires 60 voters in the 100-member Senate to approve most legislation. The poll shows that 46 percent of Arizona voters favor it and 36 percent are opposed.
When informed that Sinema’s support for the filibuster “may mean the policy priorities of President Biden and the Democratic leadership may not have a chance of becoming law and being implemented,” 50 percent said they supported her decision and 39 percent were opposed.
Sinema’s stance on the filibuster and other issues have cost her among Democratic voters — her disapproval ratings are higher among Democrats than Republicans and more Republicans approve of her job performance than Democrats.
Amandi, the pollster, said Sinema could be susceptible to a primary challenge in 2024, but her overall numbers make her a formidable general election candidate. Amandi said there’s a connection between Sinema’s support and the opposition to the audit: the electorate overall is in the middle in Arizona.
“Sen. Sinema seems to understand the lesson that Arizona voters are teaching when it comes to the audit: It’s smarter political terrain to be in the center than at the partisan extremes in Arizona,” Amandi said.
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