Mark Kelly leads in Arizona Senate race that hinges on abortion, economy, immigration – CBS News Battleground Tracker

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

Democratic candidates enjoy stronger personal ratings, while Republican voters think more about national Senate control. There is a tough economy and a desire for tighter border controls that help the Republicans, versus abortion that helps the Democrats.

And in this state that was so close in 2020, voter denial finds no favor beyond a handful of those in the Republican base—nor do voters want it to be a campaign focus.

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

Kelly also has the support of those who want abortion to be legal – which most voters do.

But while abortion is important to Democrats, it doesn’t rank as highly among voters overall compared to the economy, inflation or immigration here. And Democrats face a deficit on these goods.

The economy and immigration are central, and voters have negative views of the economy – both Arizona’s and the nation’s. That helps the Republican candidates: they win over voters who say these issues are paramount.

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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 somewhat offset by voters who value 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 who say immigration is very important, Masters leads by a large margin, helping to keep the race close.

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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 believe abortion should be legal than from those who do not.

Abortion: Most people want it legal, against criminalizing it

In the wake of a judge’s decision to reinstate a law that bans virtually all abortions in the statemost voters would have abortion legal in all or most cases in Arizona – and the majority of voters would not criminalize it.

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

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There is some division among Republicans on this. About half would not punish a woman for having an 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 who has an abortion to criminal penalties, along with even higher support for punishing doctors and physicians and anyone who paid for it .

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

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

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There is a clear gender difference. Kelly has a big lead among women and Masters has a double-digit lead among men. Kelly also leads with younger voters and Hispanic voters. Masters is ahead with older voters, white voters and evangelicals.

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Immigration: Close to Home and Changing Homes; voters want tighter border security

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

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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 has changed for the worse.

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Voters who feel this way place a lot of weight on the issue of immigration. Nine in 10 of them say it is very important to their vote in 2022, and they strongly support Republican candidates in both Senate and gubernatorial races here.

Overall, a majority of Arizona voters feel that most of those trying to cross the border are motivated by a search for jobs and a better life. But equally, they wanted the US to be tougher on those trying to cross the border. This is driven by Republicans who overwhelmingly feel that way, and a smaller majority of independents. More Latin American voters also want the United States to be tougher than easier on those trying to cross the border.

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

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As with most midterm elections, this 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 latest country code.

Electoral Denial: Not all-important, but still reigns supreme among the GOP

Outright election denial resonates little with Arizona voters: Fewer than one in five Arizona voters want their elected officials to say Mr. Biden is not the legitimate winner of the 2020 contest.

However, many do not care. Also, the 2020 election is nowhere near the top issues they want the candidates to talk about — it pales in comparison to the economy and immigration, among other issues.

Still, it could still sway 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 heard Blake Masters talk about the 2020 election are less likely to vote for him than those who say they’ve heard him talk about the economy. And they are more likely to call him “extreme” rather than “mainstream.”

And voter denial may still be a key test among some in the GOP base.

For Republicans for whom an official’s position matters, denial is still more lopsided than acceptance: by a 4-to-1 ratio, they would prefer officials who said Biden did not legitimately win over those who said he did that.

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Looking ahead, the vast majority of Arizonans want their governor to accept the results of future elections, regardless of which party wins.

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

The Governor’s Race

While the Democratic candidate holds a slim three-point lead in the Senate race, the Arizona governor’s race is tied between Democrat Katie Hobbs and Lake.

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Lake — who doesn’t have the added hurdle of running against an incumbent — is generally better liked than his 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 Masters’ 20-point deficit against Kelly this way.

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

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

Lake’s tighter competition, compared to Masters, is partly explained by ever-so-small 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 nationally representative sample of 1,164 registered Arizona voters interviewed between September 30 and October 4, 2022. The sample was weighted by gender, age, race, education and geographic region based on the US Census Current Population Survey, as well as for the 2020 presidential election. The margin of error is ±3.8 points.

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