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Home News & Events AZ Central: How to keep the 2024 election focused on issues voters actually care about

AZ Central: How to keep the 2024 election focused on issues voters actually care about

Posted on December 28, 2023 • Category: Op-Ed
By Sybil Francis, Chair, President & CEO, Center for the Future of Arizona

We are off to the races!

One year out from the 2024 election, we are learning about who's ahead and who's behind. In this era of constant campaigning and the numbers game, it's easy to lose track of reality and what really matters.

Can we set horse race numbers aside, even if briefly?

This is a crucial time for setting the tone of political debates and to bring into focus the issues that matter to Arizonans.

The power to steer the conversation from mere spectacle to substantive issues lies in our hands — we all bear some responsibility.

How to take election debates deeper

As voters, we need to learn how to sort through the noise, get over our cynicism, listen to what the candidates have to say and make our voices heard.

Candidates running for office in 2024 need to know that voters are tired of the division and partisanship and want to know where candidates stand on the issues most important to them.

The media bear a huge responsibility to help educate the public by making candidates accountable to voters. Too often, the media direct our attention to division and controversy, focusing on hot-button issues about which only a minority of voters care, while the important issues that matter to everyday Arizonans get short shrift.

This leaves many voters feeling that their voices are not heard and their votes don’t really matter.

The 2024 election presents an important opportunity to advance on all the above.

Most agree on education, immigration

If all of this seems pollyannish or naive, it's important to hold onto our democratic ideals, energize civic engagement and transform hope into tangible progress.

The Center for the Future of Arizona'sdeep portfolio of survey data over 15 years shows that Arizonans agree on much more than we disagree on important issues like education, jobs, immigration and the environment.

But these ideals are not getting translated into results that reflect his reality.

Our data have shown that only 33% of Arizonans believe our leaders represent the diverse voices of Arizonans. We have found huge gaps between what we know Arizonans want and what our political system is delivering — though they have faith in the fairness, safety and security of elections.

A number of ballot initiatives over the years underscore the disparities between voter expectations and political realities.

From added funding for education to this year’s open primaries, these initiatives reflect the reality that voters are looking for better alignment between what our politics are delivering and the collective will of Arizonans.

Sadly, few candidates actually listen

To add insult to injury, I've briefed too many candidates for office and elected leaders who find these survey results interesting but not especially relevant to them. Their eyes tend to glaze over when I share insights that, to them, seem to be platitudes.

But why should what a majority of Arizonans agree about be so boring to elected leaders and those who aspire to be elected?

Voters seem to be getting the short end of the stick in all of this.

How do we explain the gap between Arizonans' faith in our election system and lack of faith in the leaders we elect to represent their views?

Not to mention the apparent lack of interest from elected leaders and candidates for office in the views of majorities of Arizonans?

How do we get more voices heard earlier on in the process?

Partisan primaries deserve a fresh look

Our partisan primary system incentivizes candidates for office — as well as elected officials with their eye on the next election — to cater to their base, the small minorities of voters in both major political parties who are the most ideological and opposed to compromise or negotiation.

This often leaves the majority of voters feeling that they have little choice but to vote for the “lesser of two evils” when the time comes for general elections.

Our data compel us to take a fresh look at the partisan primary system and see what needs to change to make sure it delivers results more representative of a majority of Arizonans.

Efforts like the Make Elections Fair ballot initiative are aimed at doing just that and merit consideration. Every Arizona vote should matter.

As we approach the election, let’s all remember our roles in creating politics that reflect our shared values and concerns for the betterment of Arizona and all who live here.

Center for the Future of Arizona will continue to hold a mirror up to Arizona and share what we know about what Arizonans care about and what Arizona voters expect candidates for office to be talking about.

Look for our new Arizona Voters' Agenda for the 2024 election cycle.


Sybil Francis is chair, president and CEO of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for the Future of Arizona.