The people of Arizona will elect our next governor in less than a year.
Candidates are already campaigning, touting the issues they see as winners. Already, experts criticize the strategy of the candidates. Already, journalists tell us about fundraising figures and surveys.
But one thing is sorely lacking: serious public debate about what voters want to hear from candidates.
It can be too easy to get drawn into the game of politics, contests for advantage and strategies over messages, that we forget that the purpose of an election is not simply to sell a candidate. It is about advancing the American experience of self-governance.
And that means listening to voters. What issues are most important to them?
Arizonans agree on several key issues
We know something about it at Arizona Center for the Future because an important part of our mission is to listen to the people of Arizona to learn what matters most to them. What have we learned?
the Gallup Poll in Arizona, which the center commissioned in the fall of 2020, told us that we are not divided because we think and agree on much more than we disagree:
- The Arizonans agree that educational level and a strong education system at all levels is essential for building a better future, but only 26% think our K-12 public education is of high quality. Majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents want more money spent on public education.
- The Arizonans believe that Education and formation are needed to build their careers, but they fear that opportunities will be limited. Only 46% of Arizonans employed and earning less than $ 60,000 believe they have access to the education and training they need.
- The Arizonans are grappling with child care. A quarter of people with children 18 and under say the cost or limited availability of child care prevents them from returning to work or school.
- Arizona residents overwhelmingly support sustainable practices that protect our air, land, water and wildlife – and want action. Seventy percent or more want regulations that protect rural water supplies, better air quality, a transition to clean energy, more space for parks and outdoor recreation, more spending to prevent forest fires and measures that reduce the urban heat island effect.
- Support for the Arizonans comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, including for Arizona ‘Dreamers’ who were brought to this country as children. A whopping 86% think it is necessary, but our political system has failed to deliver on its promises.
Few candidates talk about these things
If you browse the websites of the top gubernatorial candidates, you will find little to no detail on how they would deal with even one of these issues, let alone all of them.
So how will we find out about a candidate’s thoughts on how to make child care more affordable? How will we know what, if anything, they plan to do to increase vocational education and training opportunities? Or their plans to protect rural water supplies?
Each voter could try to question the candidates on the issues that interest them most. But because applicants are zealous for the discipline of the message, don’t expect them to make it easy.
The best solution is in state media outlets – old newspapers, TV and radio news stations, new non-profit online outlets. Imagine if they collaborated on creating a voter-centric program to cover the upcoming election.
It wouldn’t be new. Three decades ago, the Charlotte Observer pioneered the approach of letting voters draw up an electoral program. He focused on questions that 500 readers helped identify. Candidates were asked questions from readers, and if they refused to answer, a white space was displayed next to their name.
As it turned out, readers weren’t interested in trick questions or what a candidate’s brother did 20 years ago. They wanted to know what the candidates would do to solve the most difficult problems of their lives.
As one of the editors involved in the project wrote, âWe should always put voters – our readers and viewers – at the forefront of coverage. They are the ones who will have to make a choice. We should write about what interests them and how a particular candidate would affect their life. Too often the latest tweets, polls, or other shiny political stuff don’t have much to do with it.
Journalists and editors were no longer gatekeepers, deciding what voters needed to know, but intermediaries for voters and the issues they identified as important. Real accountability between candidates and voters has been created.
The media play a key role in this conversation
Today’s media landscape is very different from what it was in 1992, but the validity of this approach remains – especially if the state’s various media outlets work together to determine what really matters to voters.
Trusting News, Hearken and the Membership Puzzle Project have already collaborated to provide an overview of create a citizen agenda. It emphasizes the need to speak to a broad section of the community, beyond the usual sources.
It encourages you to go to various communities and ask, “What do you want the candidates to talk about when they are vying for the votes?” “This is a broader and more inclusive question than” What are your main problems? What people want candidates to talk about may not be presented as an election year “problem”. “
If they do, the responses reporters and editors hear will likely echo those we heard when Gallup asked thousands of residents in late 2020 about the Arizona they want.
Or the answers may be slightly different when asked in the context of an election and “what do you want candidates to talk about?” “
But one thing will remain the same. The candidates would have us believe that this state will fall into disrepair if their opponent or, worse yet, the other party wins. They gain by underlining a partisan divide.
But the CFA’s Gallup Arizona poll found that the people of Arizona agree on much more than they disagree, including the need to come together to find solutions that can lead our state to a better future.
How will the gubernatorial candidates solve the problems most important to the people of Arizona? This is the election coverage we need in 2022.
Sybil Francis is President and CEO of the Center for the Future of Arizona, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that brings together the people of Arizona to create a stronger, brighter future for our state.