A Democrat Only Republicans Can Love

Sinema's Been Flagging All Year with Democrats; But She's Built a Strong Constituency with Partisan Republicans.
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 08: U.S. Sen. Kirsten Sinema (D-AZ) heads back to a bipartisan meeting on infrastructure in the basement of the U.S. Capitol building after the original talks fell through with the White House on June 8, 2021 in Washington, DC. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said they are now pursuing a two-path proposal that includes a new set of negotiations with a bipartisan group of senators. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Kirsten Sinema
Sen. Kirsten Sinema (D-AZ) heads back to a bipartisan meeting on infrastructure in the Capitol building on June 8, 2021. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)
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September 23, 2021 9:28 p.m.

I saw a few people questioning the Data for Progress poll I which I used as the basis for yesterday’s post about Kyrsten Sinema cratering at home among Democrats. So I decided to dig into some other polling data. Data for Progress is a progressive-aligned organization, as the name suggests. And some skepticism is always warranted when the pollster is in some way an interested party. But Data for Progress is a respected outfit. And my review of data from other pollsters over the last year bears that out. Their numbers are consistent with what other pollsters have found. But there were some more details that helped fill out the picture.

Back in March (March 8th-12th) an Arizona Public Opinion Pulse (AZPOP) poll found a similar picture to what we discussed yesterday. Sinema had very anemic support among Democrats – just 50% favorability – and she wasn’t doing well with independents either. Just 36% of independents viewed her favorably. This came just after Sinema had declared her support for the filibuster and helped tank a minimum wage increase. (Favorability is different from approval. This poll only had the former. But for these purposes it’s a close enough approximation.)

Two months later (May 3rd-5th) Sinema was doing better in a poll from the same pollster. The damage from the events of February, as the pollster noted, were beginning to dissipate. Her favorability had risen slightly with Democrats – 54% vs 50% two months earlier. She did only marginally better with independents than Mark Kelly. The big difference was that suddenly she’d gotten a lot more popular with Republicans. Kellys’s net favorability among Republicans was -42%. But Sinema was a much more respectable net -11%. Fox viewers had a net -5 point favorability for Kelly but +17 points for Sinema.

A pattern was starting to develop. Despite her public presentation of independence and push for bipartisanship Sinema wasn’t particularly popular independents. It was Republicans who seemed to like her a lot, at least compared to other Democrats. A pretty straightforward conclusion is that they liked her not so much for being a ‘moderate’ but for her tendency to stick it to her own party.

That tendency was in even sharper relief six weeks later (June 17th to 23rd) in another poll from Bendixen & Amandi. By now Sinema’s approval among Democrats had barely budged. Just 47% of Dems approved her performance as Senator. Only 46% of independents approved. But she had a new superpower. Her approval among Republicans was an eye-popping 54%. Only 32% disapproved. In an era of polarization that’s an astonishing 22% net approval from the opposite party.

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The notable thing is that Sinema had no great advantage with independents. Her ace in the hole was Republicans, Fox News viewers. She’d built a constituency of partisan Republicans who really like her because she’s constantly wrongfooting her own party.

If you’re Sinema there’s certainly a very different way to look at those numbers. Virtually every other elected official has outsized support from their own pretty and minimal support from the opposite party and some mix with independents. That’s the story of polarization. But Sinema’s support is pretty similar in each group. In the Bendixen poll it’s a mere 8 point difference between the highest approval (Republicans at 54%) and the lowest (independents at 46%). What better example of bipartisanship and independence could there be, right?

But of course, parties nominate candidates. And there’s are DefCon 1 numbers for a primary. In Arizona, independents can vote in the Democratic primary. So that could help. But remember – Sinema’s even a bit less popular with independents. What Sinema appears to have done is assemble a coalition of tepid support from Democrats and outsized support among Republicans who love her sticking it to Democrats. Another way to look at it is illustrated in the Bendixen poll. Kelly and Sinema had almost identical overall approval numbers – Kelly with 51% and Sinema with 50%. But Kelly’s support was about evenly split between those who “strongly support” (24%) vs “somewhat support” (27%). Only 12% “strongly support[ed]” Sinema.

Sinema’s support is evenly spread but shallow everywhere – a mix of tepid support from Democrats and surprisingly strong support from Republicans who almost certainly won’t ever vote for her.

The Data for Progress poll came a month later. But it tells a similar story, a candidate who is so ripe for a primary challenger that she’s close to falling off the tree. And this is all before the last eight or nine weeks when she’s worked her level best to scuttle Joe Biden’s presidency and bust the cross-party deal on infrastructure and reconciliation that has kept the party moving forward all year.

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