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What turnout in AZ's Presidential Preference Election could mean for 2 major candidates

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2024 - 11:35am
Updated: Tuesday, March 19, 2024 - 2:51pm

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Arizona's Presidential Preference Election is Tuesday, in which registered Democrats and Republicans cast their ballots to decide who will be their preferred candidate in November's general election.

Of course, at least when it comes to the top of the ticket, we all know who will be on our November ballots, making Arizona's role today rather anti-climactic.

But the state's role in the rest of this election cycle will be anything but.

NPR politics reporter Ximena Bustillo joined The Show to talk about how Arizona will fit into the national political landscape in 2024. 

Woman in recording studio
Amber Victoria Singer/KJZZ
NPR politics reporter Ximena Bustillo in the KJZZ studio on Tuesday, March 19, 2024.

Full interview

LAUREN GILGER: So you're here now in Arizona covering the primaries today. Let's start with, you know, what we're expecting in states like ours. When it comes to this Presidential Preference Election, the PPE we call it. Should we be expecting kind of turn out to be low, since we already know President Biden is going to be our Democratic nominee and, and former President Trump will be the Republican.

XIMENA BUSTILLO: Right, so primaries typically are already only a fraction of the total electorate. So they're already going to be a little bit lower on turnout. I think one thing that makes this election a little unique is independents can't vote, right. And so that's already kind of taking out a chunk of the electorate. About 30% of those who are registered to vote unless they switched their party affiliation within the last few months, just in time to do this and then happened to switch back. So that's always a possibility.

I believe that the Maricopa County supervisor did say this morning that about half a million ballots have already been turned in, which is, you know, a sizable number. We have yet to see the results. We'll get that later today. People can still turn in their ballots today. So folks are really busy working on that.

GILGER: OK. So what has polling looked like in terms of support for both of these relatively un-liked candidates right across the country? What does it look like here in Arizona?

BUSTILLO: National polls show that the race right now is pretty tight in terms of Biden and Trump's support. You know, the margins are really close. Some national polls do have Trump currently ahead of Biden if the election were to be today. They say that Trump has a sizable chance at winning. However, we are six months away from the election. And what do polls really mean at the end of the day, right? But you know, it kind of does show how there, there are people that are supporting both candidates and that is something to recognize and be aware of.

The other thing though is six months. That is so much time for so many things to happen. The former president, Donald Trump, is currently facing 88 state and federal charges across the board. And recent even NPR-PBS-Morris polling shows that, you know, that margin could make a difference if independents and moderate Republicans see that he is convicted, if there is a conviction before Election Day. And you know, they might be less likely to vote for him, that could be a game changer.

GILGER: Yeah. OK. So let's talk about the Democratic side. What about protest votes? Like, there's no uncommitted option on Arizona's ballot like there, you know, was in other places and other states, we've seen that happen. People coming out who are unhappy about the president's views on Israel and Palestine and sort of casting a protest vote. Our politics desk has reported that some Democrats are urging people to vote for Marianne Williamson in protest. Are you expecting any of that here?

BUSTILLO: It is one thing to look, at because Democrats that have legitimate, you know, anger and frustration towards the current president are using these third-party candidates or these uncommitted boxes as a way to use the democratic process to protest against Joe Biden. However, a lot of these folks, you know, especially if they already identified as Democrat or left leaning when it comes November, and they're faced with two options. They are more likely to stick with Joe Biden.

However, you know, it's not something that should be completely ignored by the Biden campaign. You know, in areas like Maricopa County where margins are really tight, if folks are angry enough that they just don't vote or they don't vote up the ballot, that can make a difference. And so it is something to still kind of watch.

GILGER: Yeah, that's the trick. OK, let's talk about the issues that you're watching in a swing state like Arizona. Lots of talk. We know we are going to be one of the places to watch when it comes to this election this year. We are also a border state. Is immigration something that you're hearing from a lot of voters here and maybe more so than in other states?

BUSTILLO: Immigration definitely is. I think it is a national conversation that is hitting border states, particularly, personally, Arizona has always been a border state, right? I don't have to tell you that there are issues here that have been issues for decades that other states like Illinois, New York and Colorado are seeing and having conversations of in ways that they haven't before. But they have always been conversations here. Yet because Arizona is a presidential swing state and it is on the border it is being used as examples with these national talking points.

And so that does trickle down back to Arizona when looking at how candidates on the left and the right are reacting to immigration, whether that's the hardline bills that we're seeing in the state Legislature or how Democrats along the border in areas like Pima County and Tucson are dealing with the pressures currently there with the intake of asylum seekers. So it definitely is an issue that is really relevant here in Arizona for voters, and it always has been, but there are particular pressures now.

GILGER: Yeah, and it sounds like the campaigns are really paying attention to that on both sides.

BUSTILLO: Yes, both campaigns definitely are. It is one of the issues that is reaching all the way up to the presidential candidates.

GILGER: So does it come down to the economy here as it will in so many places as well? I know we talk about a lot about immigration here because it's a border state, but the economy's going to matter, too.

BUSTILLO: The economy definitely matters. You know, voters always say that their number one concern is high cost of living, high cost of food, high cost of energy and utility prices. And there are different ways that the candidates have honed in on this issue. So Republicans and former president Donald Trump, you know, they turn to inflation, and they say that the economy is worse than it's ever been before even as you know, job numbers show otherwise.

However, the Biden administration the Biden campaign and other Democrats, they're trying to turn to some of the big packages that the Biden administration has managed to get through Congress. Whether that's the Inflation Reduction Act and the Climate Investment or the CHIPS Act, which has led to more chip manufacturing, particularly in Arizona. The challenge there is just communicating this octopus, legislative really confusing policy to everyday voters that may or may not be personally benefiting from these dollars.

GILGER: OK. So last 30 seconds or so here, Ximena, we hear a lot about how Arizona is going to be at the center of things, how we are a swing state now or purple, whatever that may be. How big of a role are we going to play here? Like how much attention should we expect in the next ... six months?

BUSTILLO: I expect a lot of attention. It is pretty significant just because it did help Trump get the White House ... in 2016 ... And then in 2020, it helped Biden get the White House. First time it went for a democratic president as the choice in decades and by a small margin, right? Just over 10,000 votes. So faced with the same two candidates again, what do you choose this time? So the road to the White House is definitely in Arizona.

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Woman in recording studio
Amber Victoria Singer/KJZZ
NPR politics reporter Ximena Bustillo in the KJZZ studio on Tuesday, March 19, 2024.
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