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Arizona Capitol Times: Is it time to retire the campaign pivot?

The primaries have passed and now candidates in Arizona are reshaping or pivoting their positions to try to appeal to voters in the general election. But most voters in the state want to hear candidates talk about plans and solutions to problems, not discussing politics and ideology.
Posted on September 23, 2022 • Category: Op-Ed
By Sybil Francis, President & CEO, Center for the Future of Arizona

Arizona Capitol Times

The primaries are in the rearview mirror, general election campaigns are well underway, and candidates are reshaping their messaging for general election voters.

Sometimes the pivot is believable. Other times, not so much.

But isn’t it time to retire this tradition? Shouldn’t we know which version of the candidate we’re really voting for?

The need to pivot is created by an election system that essentially ignores the interests of most Arizona voters. Partisan primaries force candidates to cater to base voters. Independent voters are underrepresented, yet they’re the ones who decide the general election. A candidate has to say one thing in the primary, then a few weeks later convince independent and swing voters they don’t really believe that.

Candidates who emerge from the primaries got there by a process that is not representative of the general electorate. Hence, the need to pivot. When elected officials fail to represent the people, disdain for government grows.

Have you asked yourself why elections work this way? And, maybe more importantly, does it have to be this way?

Surveys commissioned by the Center for the Future of Arizona underscore the gaps between what Arizona voters care about and what candidates talk about while campaigning. These surveys consistently find that most Arizonans agree on the most demanding challenges facing our state and want pragmatic solutions. The recent survey that resulted in the Arizona Voters’ Agenda is an example.

The survey found majorities of Arizona voters want to hear candidates talk about plans and solutions for our most pressing problems. They don’t care about politics and ideology.

They want candidates to share how they will:

Candidates for office or even elected leaders won’t change their campaign strategies unless we change how we elect them. We need a system in which every vote counts.

A few examples of alternative ways to run elections are getting attention:

  • Instead of party primaries, some states use open primaries. All candidates – Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, independents – are listed on a single ballot. In Washington, California, Nebraska, and Louisiana, the top-two vote-getters advance to the general election.
  • Open primaries are sometimes used in tandem with ranked-choice elections, in which all candidates run on the same ballot and voters rank them from their first choice to their last. If a candidate wins a majority, that person is the winner. If no one reaches a majority, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and the second-choice votes on those ballots are counted. This continues until someone wins a majority.
  • Redesigning the redistricting processes also allows elections to be more competitive and representative of voters.

What is the best way to put “the pivot” behind us and elect leaders more closely aligned with the hopes of most Arizonans and who will provide pragmatic solutions to our most pressing priorities?

As we consider more representative systems of electing our leaders, please make sure to vote on November 8! Your vote matters!

Sybil Francis is President & 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.