PHOENIX—The political landscape appears sharply divided in Arizona, one of the fastest-growing states in the country.
In interviews with nearly two dozen voters in Maricopa County, which holds more than 4 million residents, support for President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden appeared neck-and-neck.
Arizona voters who lean blue told The Epoch Times their top issues include improving the pandemic response, more accessible health care, improving racial equality, combating climate change, and enacting police reform.
Voters who lean red care most about border security, a strong economy, law and order, foreign policy, and a pro-life agenda.
In 2016, Trump won the state’s 11 electoral votes by less than 100,000 votes. The latest state government data shows 1,389,960 registered Republican voters in Arizona and 1,293,074 registered Democrats. Arizona has an estimated population of more than 7 million people.
Some voters in Maricopa County, the state’s largest, pointed to Arizona’s long history of voting red as an indication that the political winds won’t stray too far this election, while others say the influx of Californians could turn it blue.
In the 17 presidential elections between 1952 and 2016, only one Democratic candidate has won Arizona—Bill Clinton in 1996.
Nestled in downtown Phoenix, a restaurant owner, who said she is still undecided, is researching how much each candidate supports small businesses.
Rachel McAuley, owner of Zen Thai Cafe, said the candidates should be supportive of small businesses, especially those that are struggling and may not have good credit.
Months ago, a number of local businesses were damaged during protests, and McAuley slept at her restaurant for several nights to protect it from rioters, noting that the police had their hands tied—an extra burden on top of the lockdown restrictions that had already guttered her business.
“It’s just so tough right now. There’s just no security,” she told The Epoch Times.
“I think Arizona is still Republican, but I’m not sure. I think a lot of people moved from California, so it might go a different way.”
Californians are increasingly moving to Arizona for a raft of reasons, including the lower cost of living, an economic boom in Arizona, an expanding number of finance and tech positions, and its sunny climate and scenic sights. There are now companies dedicated solely to assisting Californians’ exodus from the state.
Kenneth Silvia, who was shopping at the Downtown Phoenix Farmers Market, said his top priority is the economy.
“Number two would be foreign affairs, number three would be COVID,” he told The Epoch Times. “We have to be America first—without the United States, the rest of the world fumbles,” he said, adding that “America-first” policies are pivotal, and he will vote for Trump.
Silvia said he had no issue with the government’s pandemic response, noting that Trump shut down travel from China as early as he could.
“He got criticized for it, but everyone who was criticizing him for not doing enough, were criticizing him for shutting things down,” he said. “You can’t have it both ways.”
The president’s efforts in securing the America’s borders hasn’t gone unnoticed, Silvia said, adding that he supports the southern wall and legal immigration. The border wall between Arizona and Mexico is just a couple hours’ drive south from the farmers market. So far, more than 300 miles of new border wall have been constructed.
Silvia said he sees a lot of enthusiasm for Trump in Arizona. On Oct. 12, thousands of Trump supporters took part in a car rally that reportedly stretched for about 30 miles. Many of the vehicles were adorned with giant American flags or “Trump 2020” flags.
Of those who said they planned to vote for Biden, Trump’s pandemic response was repeatedly mentioned as being too slow and was usually the first topic brought up. Many also criticized Trump’s character, saying he needed to show more empathy toward Americans. And many didn’t like the border wall.
“I’m not crazy about Trump’s handling of the virus, I think he could have handled it better,” Amanda Opet told The Epoch Times. “He downplayed it, he admitted to downplaying it.”
Opet, who was also at the farmers market, said that she especially hates that “masks have become a political thing” and that “other countries wear it without no problem, it’s literally a piece of fabric.”
Like others, she said it was hard to tell which way the state was leaning politically. On border security, she said she doesn’t believe “everybody should be able to come in so easily.” At the same time, she said the immigration process takes too long in some cases, noting that it takes years to get citizenship. However, she said the presence of the border wall doesn’t bother her.
A couple of voters also told The Epoch Times that they planned to sit out this election because they’re not a fan of either candidate.
Red and Blue
Multiple couples in downtown Phoenix were themselves on opposing sides of the political spectrum—a microcosm of sorts of the politically divided climate of the state.
Jordyn Robinson said she believes Arizona has definitely become more liberal.
“I think it’s going to be a blue state this year; we have had so many protests,” she told The Epoch Times. “In downtown, you have Arizona State University, all of these college kids who are getting active and protesting on social media—I think it’s really going to make a turn.”
Her partner, Cody Hourihan, had different views.
“I don’t think that will happen,” he said, referring to Robinson’s remarks. “I work in the service industry, so I speak to a lot of people and homeowners—the conservatives are still super strong out here.”
Hourihan said he often has discussions with his partner, telling her that Biden is past his prime and should throw in the towel.
“I think [if you’re] 45 years in politics, you’re doing something right, you need to stay there,” Robinson replied.
On the actual voting process, the pair was also divided.
Robinson said she’s voting by early ballot like she does every year. She said she’s more glad to do it this year due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Hourihan said mail-in voting is potentially a “big problem,” saying that there’s “too much tampering that could be done there” and that potential computer hacking could be dealt with quicker than widespread mail fraud.
The issue of voter fraud, which has gained more media attention in recent years, is a highly contentious issue that is largely divided along political-ideological lines. In the past few weeks, mail-in voting mishaps or ballot issues have been reported in a number of states.
In another section of the city, Vander Heyden said that she is still undecided, while her husband is voting red. She told The Epoch Times they talk about which direction the state will swing every night at dinner and that they have friends who are both red and blue.
Heyden said they often don’t vote the same way and that even among her friends, she is unsure exactly who is voting for whom.
“I do a lot of searching before I make a decision,” she said. “The media isn’t telling you the truth. I read three newspapers, and somewhere in the middle is the truth.”
Jeremy Ciaramella, the lead pastor at the Phoenix International Christian Church, which has a 45 percent African American membership, told The Epoch Times he has seen both sides of the political debate up close: “I’m hearing both sides very intensely.”
“I’m hearing what is considered the left or liberal point of view very loudly,” he said. “Some have also come to me privately with a very conservative point of view and expressed a frustration with the backlash [toward] having a conservative point of view.”
“I have a very blended congregation, and this community is also blended. We have to respect each other, understand you each have your own specific beliefs.”
State polls paint a similar picture of a politically split Arizona. In one September Washington Post-ABC News poll, Trump was ahead of Biden among likely voters, 49 percent to 48 percent. In a more recent poll by CBS News, Biden leads Trump by 3 points with 50 to 47.
But polls have been proven fickle, as 2016 clearly demonstrated.