Arizona Capitol Times - Wanted: Candidates who will listen to what matters most to all voters
There are as many reasons to run for public office as there are candidates. Many are motivated by a particular issue or philosophy, which they emphasize in their election campaign. They tell us what they will do.
Too often overlooked, however, is what voters – at least a majority, not just the most zealous segments of a party — want to hear from the candidates. In a representative form of government, the voters’ collective desires should carry significant weight.
So why not start each election year by asking: What matters most to voters?
This is something we know about at the Center for the Future of Arizona, where our mission is centered on listening to Arizonans and learning what matters to them and prompting action on those issues. In late 2020, we commissioned our second decennial Gallup Arizona Survey, one of the most comprehensive surveys ever conducted in Arizona which asked Arizonans what they thought were the most impactful things we could do to create a stronger and brighter future for our state. One stunning revelation of this research is that we agree on much more than we disagree, contrary to the popular narrative of division and polarization of our state and country.
We found that Arizonans overwhelmingly agree on seven priority areas – shared public values – and more than 40 specific actions to advance our state. And three-fourths of Arizonans are willing to speak with others of differing views to solve problems.
A few examples of where Arizonans agree:
Arizonans overwhelmingly agree that educational attainment and a strong education system are vital to building a better future. Majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents want more money spent on public education.
Arizonans believe that education and training are necessary for building their careers, but they worry that opportunities are limited. Almost half of employed Arizonans earning less than $60,000 say they do not have access to the education and training they need.
- Arizonans overwhelmingly support sustainable practices that protect our air, land, water and wildlife. Seventy percent or more want cleaner air, protected rural water supplies, a transition to clean energy, expanded space for parks and recreation, more spending to prevent forest fires and steps to reduce the urban heat effect.
- Arizonans support comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, including for Arizona’s DREAMers. A whopping 86% believe this is important.
What needs to change to put what matters to voters at the center of campaign rhetoric?
The news media can set aside horse-race reporting and press candidates to answer questions posed by their readers, listeners and viewers. Voters themselves can seek opportunities to question candidates and challenge them when they don’t give direct answers. The influential readers of the Capitol Times are ideally situated to do this.
But most refreshing would be candidates who step forward and embrace their role as representatives for all their constituents, not just a sliver of the electorate. Instead of commissioning polls to identify wedge issues that benefit candidates, they would ask their potential constituents, “What do you want to hear from me in this election cycle? What are the most critical issues to you and our state I should address?”
Imagine candidates who eschewed tossing mud in favor of talking about issues we know are important to Arizonans. Imagine candidates more interested in proposing solutions to our most important challenges than in portraying the other candidate as evil personified.
Suggesting this approach may sound naïve, because our current primary system rewards candidates who appeal to a party’s most partisan voters. But are any candidates brave enough to address the concerns of everyday Arizonans? If the answer is no, I’d like to suggest that the news media can play a powerful role in shaping the narrative and getting candidates to focus on what voters care about.
The Gallup Arizona Survey found that the partisan divide we hear so much about may not be all that it’s made out to be. As Arizonans we agree on far more than we disagree, including a shared hunger to come together to find solutions that drive our state forward to a brighter future.
Candidates who tap into that hunger, who listen to voters and understand what they truly care about and propose ways to give them the Arizona they want … those candidates are the ones we need in 2022.
Sybil Francis is president & CEO of the Center for the Future of Arizona, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that brings Arizonans together to create a stronger and brighter future for our state.