Goldwater was born on July 15, 1938. He graduated from Staunton Military Academy in Staunton, Virginia in 1957. Goldwater attended the University of Colorado and graduated from Arizona State University in 1962. He then worked as a stockbroker, public relations executive and in import-export business before being elected to Congress.
In April 1969, Goldwater ran his first race for Congress representing northern Los Angeles County. He won that race for the 91st Congress and was reelected for six consecutive terms. During his time in Washington Goldwater served on several committees such as the Committee on Public Works and Transportation, the Joint Committee on Energy, and the Committee on Science and Technology.
During his tenure Goldwater drafted legislation that addressed issues that are still topics of debate today. The Privacy Act of 1974, which prevents the distribution of private information from government and businesses, is one of the best known laws of which he drafted.
In 1980, Goldwater campaigned for family friend and Governor of California Ronald Reagan, who won the presidential election against Jimmy Carter. Goldwater would later publicly debate Reagan's son Ron Reagan, who did not support Goldwater's friend and then-California Republican gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger went on to win the 2003 recall election to replace Gray Davis as Governor of California.
With his district merged with that of Bobbi Fiedler due to redistricting, Goldwater ran for the Republican nomination to the United States Senate in 1982. Goldwater lost that race to San Diego mayor and future Governor Pete Wilson due to what Goldwater labeled "partisan mudslinging" which linked his name to a congressional drug use scandal that Goldwater was found not to be involved in. During that time Goldwater did seek help from a treatment center in Wickenburg, Arizona for an admitted drinking problem which he overcame. His term in office expired in January 1983.
On November 16, 2007, Goldwater publicly endorsed Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul of Texas for the GOP nomination in 2008.
On January 5, 2008, Goldwater announced his decision to go to New Hampshire to campaign for Ron Paul after Paul's 10% showing in the Iowa caucuses, held on January 3, 2008. His efforts helped Paul garner 8% of the vote in New Hampshire. He also spoke in support of Ron Paul at the Kansas GOP caucus.
On September 4, 2008, a list of electors in Louisiana using the label "Louisiana Taxpayers Party" paid $500 and filed papers with the Secretary of State's Office to get on the ballot. They were pledged to Ron Paul for President and to Goldwater for Vice President. Goldwater Jr. received 9,368 votes for Vice-President in Louisiana, coming in third place in the popular vote.
In 2015, Goldwater was chairman of TUSK – Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed – "that aims at pushing solar from a different perspective: a Republican one". The group favored net metering. In the same policy area, the Goldwater Institute "sued to have [Arizona]'s renewable energy standards and tariffs throw[n] out in a move that would have slowed solar development to a crawl", per Phoenix Business Journal.
After retiring from politics, Goldwater moved to Los Angeles and pursued a career in the financial sector, specializing in security law and underwriting. His clients were major U.S. banks and insurance companies. Goldwater became a member of the New York Stock Exchange and a partner in what is now Wedbush Securities (formerly Noble Cook, Inc.)
Goldwater now lives in Phoenix, Arizona near his son Barry M. Goldwater III.
He has served on the board of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program. He is also currently serving on the Board of Directors of the Goldwater Institute. The Goldwater Institute is a nonprofit political think tank which studies and publishes findings on public policies that align with the conservative values promoted by Goldwater’s father. Goldwater supported legislation and policies generally embrace economic independence, individual rights, and a restriction of governmental powers.
Goldwater maintains his contact with Republican and Democratic leaders, as well as celebrity activists, while he continues to champion the conservative political movement started by his father. He is a member of the American Numismatic Association and is currently director of the National Collector's Mint.
Goldwater has won several awards including the Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, an award from the President’s Commission on Employment of the Handicapped, the Distinguished Service Award of the A.C.A., and the Conscience of the Congress Award of the American Conservative Union.