Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is deeply unpopular with Democratic primary voters in her home state and would be vulnerable against a number of intra-party challengers, according to a new poll from a progressive group.
The poll, from Data for Progress, comes with heavy caveats. The 2022 midterms aren’t even here yet, never mind the 2024 election. And Arizona’s primaries are open to independent voters ― meaning the exact makeup of the electorate is hard to nail down even in the weeks leading up to an election, let alone three years in advance.
But the numbers for Sinema, a centrist who is playing a starring role in holding up key parts of President Joe Biden’s agenda, are grim. They show widespread discontent with her performance, making her vulnerable to nearly any Democratic challenger.
“Her opposition to President Biden’s agenda is setting her up for an incredibly tough Democratic primary,” said Sean McElwee, one of the co-founders of Data for Progress, while acknowledging that 2024 is a long way away. “She will be facing immense headwinds.”
Seventy percent of prospective 2024 primary voters have a negative opinion of Sinema, with just 24% expressing a positive view of the first-term senator. Nearly half have a “very unfavorable” opinion. For contrast, 85% of primary voters have a favorable opinion of Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), who is also in his first term.
The survey tested Sinema against four different potential primary challengers: Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Iraq War veteran who represents Phoenix and whose name often comes up in conversations about potential threats to Sinema; Rep. Greg Stanton, a former mayor of Phoenix; Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego; and Tucson Mayor Regina Romero.
If all four candidates ran ― an unlikely scenario for many reasons, including the fact that Ruben and Kate Gallego used to be married to each other ― the survey has Ruben Gallego earning 23% of the vote to Sinema’s 19% and Stanton’s 13%. Both Romero and Kate Gallego would theoretically earn 9% of the vote.
But head-to-head matchups drive home how dire Sinema’s position could be. All four potential challengers have massive leads: Ruben Gallego leads Sinema 62% to 23%; Kate Gallego has a 60% to 25% edge; Stanton leads 59% to 24%; and Romero leads 55% to 26%.
It’s clear that animus toward Sinema is the driving factor here. Romero is the only candidate who isn’t from the massive Phoenix media market, and the poll found that two-thirds of primary voters don’t know enough about her to have an opinion. But that did not stop her from opening up a 30-percentage point lead over the incumbent.
The poll also found that most of Sinema’s proposals to reshape Biden’s social spending and climate agenda ― the 10-year cost of which is already set to drop from $3.5 trillion to $2.5 trillion or less on the insistence of Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) ― are unpopular with Democratic primary voters in the state.
For example, 88% of primary voters said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports raising taxes on the rich and on large corporations. Sinema has resisted many of the tax hikes proposed to pay for Biden’s legislative agenda, and also reportedly does not support an ultra-popular proposal to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices.
Much of Sinema’s electoral fate could hinge on her relationship with Biden, who remains popular with primary voters. While she played a key role in negotiating a bipartisan infrastructure package sought by the White House over the summer, sources close to the administration have found her opaque and frustrating to deal with during negotiations over the so-called Build Back Better plan. CNN reported earlier this month that Sinema does not always return calls from the White House.
LUCHA, a progressive group based in Arizona, has already launched a political action committee raising money for a 2024 primary challenge to Sinema. Separately, Chuck Rocha, a top official on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ runs for president, has launched a group encouraging Ruben Gallego to run. (Gallego turned down entreaties to run in 2020, when Kelly defeated Republican Sen. Martha McSally.)
Even if no credible primary threat emerges, the widespread dissatisfaction among Democrats in Arizona could threaten Sinema’s electoral hopes should she choose to run again in 2024. In Sinema’s 2018 race for Senate, a Green Party candidate won 2.5% of the vote ― far more than Green Party candidates in competitive races elsewhere in the country. If the bloc of liberal voters backing the Green Party grows, it could spell trouble for Sinema.
No other poll has measured potential primary challenges to Sinema, though other surveys ― mostly conducted before attention on her role holding up the Build Back Better plan intensified ― have her in a better position among Democrats.
An OH Predictive Insights poll from September found that 56% of Democrats viewed her favorably, while 30% viewed her unfavorably. Her favorability with GOP and independent voters was relatively strong: Overall, 46% of registered voters in Arizona viewed her favorably while 39% viewed her unfavorably.
A Morning Consult survey from earlier this month found that 46% of Democrats approved of her job performance, while 40% disapproved. Overall, voters were split on her performance, with 42% approving and 42% disapproving.
Data for Progress surveyed 467 likely Democratic primary voters in Arizona from Oct. 8 to Oct. 10, giving the poll a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.