Arizona Daily Star: Elevating Tucson's voice in 2024 elections
As Arizona gears up for the 2024 elections, it is time to set the tone of political debates and bring attention to the issues that matter most to Arizonans. Tucson’s unique concerns and community voices must be heard in our political discourse. We all bear some responsibility in steering the conversation from mere spectacle to substance.
At Center for the Future of Arizona, our extensive statewide survey data spanning 15 years reveals overwhelming agreement among Arizonans, including among Tucsonans, on the importance of addressing key issues such as education, jobs and economic opportunity, infrastructure, and the environment. However, not enough of what Tucsonans want is translating into results that reflect this reality.
Let’s consider just some examples from recent findings:
Nearly nine in 10 Tucsonans support equitable access to quality education for all children, but only 22% believe that Arizona’s K-12 education is high-quality.
A significant 86% of Tucsonans prioritize protecting rural water supplies. However, in 2022, only 14% of voters in Pima County said they were confident that Arizona will have sufficient water for the next century.
With regard to job satisfaction and availability, only 20% of Tucsonans feel they have the perfect job, with Tucsonans reporting the lowest job satisfaction across eight surveyed metropolitan areas. Many cite a lack of industry opportunities and high childcare costs as barriers to economic success.
Only 16% of Tucsonans are satisfied with their roads and streets — the lowest satisfaction rate in Arizona.
Arizona voters across the state and political spectrum continue to have faith in the fairness, safety, and security of elections. Yet, only 33% of all Arizonans and just 27% of Tucsonans believe our leaders represent the diverse voices of Arizonans.
Voters seem to be getting shortchanged. How do we correct this?
For one, let’s let data and facts drive our debates and decision-making.
It’s also essential to take election debates deeper and increase the quality of our political dialogue and civic engagement across the board.
Voters want to know where candidates for office stand on the issues most important to them and are tired of the division and partisanship.
The local media have a big responsibility in educating the public by making candidates accountable to the voters. That includes focusing on issues critical to Tucson and moving beyond national narratives — which too often focus on hot-button topics that only a minority of voters care about.
Additionally, our data suggest that we must evaluate the design of elections and explore potential innovations.
One area that needs to be reconsidered is the partisan primary system to ensure results better represent the majority of Arizonans.
The current way that candidates are selected for the general election incentivizes candidates for office — as well as elected officials with their eye on the next election — to cater to the most partisan and small minority 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. Efforts like the Make Elections Fair ballot initiative merit consideration. Every Arizona vote should matter.
As the election draws near, it is crucial to hold onto our democratic ideals, stay engaged, and turn hope and possibilities into action.
Change often begins at the community level and has the power to shape broader political landscapes. Tucson is known for its active and involved community. It has taken up vital civic engagement, education, workforce, and environmental initiatives to find solutions to these issues.
Center for the Future of Arizona is committed to ensuring voices from all corners of the state, including vibrant communities like Tucson, are heard. Together, we can shape a political future that reflects our diverse and dynamic state. Look for our new Arizona Voters’ Agenda coming soon.
Sybil Francis, Ph.D., is chair, president and CEO of Center for the Future of Arizona, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.