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Arizonans head to the polls

ASU professor Kim Fridkin discusses Arizona's turn in the political spotlight during Tuesday's presidential preference election

A woman opens a door to a voting location.
March 22, 2016

Arizona doesn’t usually get this much of a voice.
In a typical presidential election year, voters in the Grand Canyon State go to the polls on the day of the Arizona primary — if they choose to vote at all — to concur with or dissent from a fait accompli. Our fellow citizens in the states with primaries preceding our own have usually already narrowed the field to a single contender on each the Republican and Democratic side.
But this, as has been noted by all manner of political pundit, is not a typical presidential election year.
And so the political circus is here in Arizona with three candidates still in the hunt on the Republican side and two Democrats still alive.
Yes, businessman Donald Trump made relatively quick work of what was an unwieldy Republican field and looks all but assured to have the most delegates when his party convenes in Cleveland for the nominating convention.
But Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) are sticking around to play spoilers, hoping to prevent him from mathematically clinching the nomination. If they succeed, their line of reasoning argues, then a vote in an open convention might pick someone other than Trump to be the GOP standard-bearer.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also the overwhelming favorite on her side of the aisle, but Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) is still drawing large and enthusiastic crowds of young voters attracted to his self-identified socialist political movement.
So this year Arizonans will get to weigh in on the inevitability of Trump and Clinton, and the extent to which they want the primary process to play out a little longer.
Kim Fridkin, professor in the School of Politics and Global StudiesThe School of Politics and Global Studies is an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences., has been watching this all unfold and keeping ASU Now honest on what’s important and what is just noise.
Welcome to presidential preference electionPrimary day in Arizona is officially called the presidential preference election. day.

Question: Arizonans are playing an unusually prominent role in the national primary process this year. So where are we now with this election?

Answer: Hillary Clinton is definitely the front-runner in the Democratic nomination race, and it is unlikely — but not mathematically impossible — for Bernie Sanders to win the nomination.  The Democratic Party has non-elected superdelegatesSuperdelegates are party leaders — elected officials, for example — who get a vote at the convention. They usually pledge their support to one candidate or another, but they are technically allowed to change their votes. Right now, Secretary Clinton has the vast majority of the superdelegates supporting her candidacy. so there will not be a contested convention.

On the Republican side, Donald Trump is definitely the front-runner, but it is not impossible for Ted Cruz to win the nomination — though it is highly unlikely. Since Donald Trump is a very divisive figure in the Republican Party, if he does not obtain the majority of the delegates before the Convention, it is likely that the Republican Convention will be a contested convention. (The Republican Party does not have superdelegates).  

Q: Already election officials in Maricopa and Pima counties are saying that voter turnout could be as high as 60 to 65 percent. Do you get the sense that people are excited to vote for the current crop of candidates, or against them?

A: I don’t really have a sense of a great deal of excitement, but more than in past Arizona presidential primaries because the nomination is not over — although it is almost settled. So, I am not sure how high the turnout will be. However, the candidates have been spending some time in Arizona — which is also unusual — with visits this weekend by the front-runners as well as Bernie Sanders. And the candidates seem to spending a fair amount of money on television commercials. So turnout may be high, but I don’t think it will reach 60 percent. But we'll see. 

Q: Some in the Democratic Party have started calling for Sen. Sanders to drop out of the race and help Hillary Clinton gear up for a battle against Trump. Is there a risk in alienating his supporters?

A: I have done research recently on the 2008 campaign with some colleagues, and this research suggests that Clinton supporters were somewhat less likely to participate in the November election, controlling for a host of rival factors. This research suggests that divisive primaries can lead people to stay home in the general election. And, this is a potential drawback of an extended nomination campaign on the Republican and Democratic sides. However, neither of the leading candidates has secured the nomination, so I don’t think Bernie Sanders should drop out of the race and I don’t think John Kasich should drop out on the Republican side. 

Q: What remain the biggest issues for Republican voters? Does that give any particular candidate an edge?

A: In Arizona, I think the biggest issues are probably immigration and security (for Democrats and Republicans), and economic inequality and education (on the Democratic side). While Trump may have an advantage nationally on immigration, I think Arizona voters are more sophisticated on this issue, so I am not sure that Trump’s message on immigration gives him an advantage in Arizona. Instead, Trump’s outsider image and “tell it like it is” persona may be attractive to conservative and moderate voters. I think Trump has momentum and dominates media coverage, and these factors will give him an advantage today. On the Democratic side, I think the election will be closer, since Bernie Sanders is very popular with younger voters. So if there’s a high turnout on the Democratic side, that will be to his benefit.

Q: So who do you think wins the Republican and Democratic primaries?

A: I think Clinton will win and I think Trump will win, even though it’s a closed primaryA closed primary is one in which only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote in their party's primary. Some states, including New Hampshire, have open primaries, where independents can choose which side they would like to vote in. Donald Trump has typically done better in states with open primaries. But it's all relative, because he's doing quite well. .  

Top photo by Kristen Price/

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