From what you’re seeing in political ads on your TV screen and and in your mailbox, you would think that Arizonans care about just one or two hot-button issues and are hopelessly divided and polarized. But are the candidates missing the mark? Do they represent your views? What will it take for them to get your vote?
Arizona Daily Star: 6 things for Arizona voters to keep in mind
These are the questions we at the Center for the Future of Arizona asked when we surveyed likely voters in the upcoming elections. Our approach is similar to the Star’s new approach to elections, which focuses on what voters want to know. Our survey formed the basis of the Arizona Voters’ Agenda launched in early June. What we found might surprise you. Voters agree on much more than they disagree about important issues facing our state, and they are not nearly as polarized as pundits would have you believe.
Three polls we’ve commissioned over the past decade show that Arizonans are generally pragmatic, not dogmatic. They want solutions to Arizona’s challenges, not soundbites. Tucson voters share the same concerns as voters in Phoenix or rural Arizona. Our survey also put in stark relief the enormous gap between what’s important to voters and what candidates emphasize. Here’s what voters want candidates to address as they compete for their votes and what political reporters should be asking:
- What is your plan to ensure Arizona students have quality teachers and principals?
- What do you think the state should do with the growing budget surplus? (Spoiler alert: Voters prioritize funding for education, public safety, and infrastructure over tax cuts.)
- What should Arizona do to protect our water future and secure our long-term water supplies?
- What sustainable practices should continue and be implemented to protect Arizona’s air, land, and water, and foster a high quality of life for all?
- What should Arizona do to keep our elections secure while preventing barriers to participation? (Spoiler alert: Arizona voters like early in-person voting and want to continue to have the option to mail their ballots.)
- How do you define a functioning border for commerce, and what is your vision for immigration reform? (Another spoiler alert: Building a wall isn’t a priority for voters; comprehensive immigration reform is.)
Imagine an election season in which candidates spoke to these issues, and presented competing, concrete plans for making Arizona a better place. Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change from what candidates are serving up these days?
Our survey found that 38% of voters will choose candidates based on their position on the issues and 27% based on whether they have clear plans or solutions. That’s two-thirds of the voters more interested in policy than ideology.
Early ballots have been mailed for the Aug. 2 primary election, which, if history repeats itself, will have a low turnout dominated by the most dedicated voters in each party. They are not representative of the general electorate. Independents generally sit out primaries, letting others determine their choices in November. Don’t kid yourself that you can skip the primary you don’t think is important. It is! Show up for election day! You can request an early ballot until July 22, or you can go to your polling place on Aug. 2. Independents have the same right to vote in a primary as anyone else. You just have to specify which party’s ballot you want to vote, whether you vote early or in person. Don’t let the candidates escape into soundbites and polarizing talking points. Hold them accountable to define and explain their positions on the issues that matter to Arizonans. This is the path to achieving The Arizona We Want.
Sybil Francis is president and CEO of Center for the Future of Arizona, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that brings Arizonans together to create a stronger and brighter future for our state.