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Survey: Many Arizona voters think candidates are out of touch on most important issues

Arizona voters seem to agree on a number of issues heading into this year’s elections. Among those areas of agreement? Candidates for office are not focused on what’s important to voters.

The Center for the Future of Arizona has released its 2024 Arizona Voters’ Agenda. It found voters’ top issues are immigration and border security, long-term water supplies and education, with inflation and cost of living and housing costs not far behind.

But the survey also asked about broader issues facing the state, and found less than half of respondents say candidates in Arizona are talking about those issues, as well as a majority of Arizona voters want candidates who are willing to compromise and work in a bipartisan manner.

Sybil Francis is the president and CEO of the Center for the Future of Arizona. She spoke with The Show's Mark Brodie more about the results, starting with the broad themes or takeaways that emerged for her from among the four policy areas about which the survey asked Arizonans: housing and homelessness, growth and state spending, education and immigration.

Full conversation

SYBIL FRANCIS: Well, the reason we're doing this survey is really to center the voices of Arizonans in our elections. We hear so much from candidates and then through them, from the media. What we're really trying to do is where do we have areas of agreement that we can share with candidates running for office and others on which to build a positive agenda for Arizona going forward. So what is striking about our findings is that we have quite a number of those issues. And when we say agreement, we mean at least 50% agreement among Republicans Democrats and non-affiliated independent voters.

MARK BRODIE: Was that surprising to you? And I ask because if you watch the state Legislature or if you watch, you know, members of Congress or even in some cases city councils, you would not think that there's a whole lot of agreement on a whole lot of issues.

FRANCIS: You are absolutely right. And that's one of our objectives, which is to kind of push back against that narrative of polarization and division. We see that our politics are polarized, but when we've been talking to Arizona voters for 15 years. So in some ways, this is not a surprise to us because we found this over and over, and we're finding these disconnects between what Arizona voters are interested in and want to make progress on and what we're getting out of our politics. But yes, I do think the findings come as a bit of a surprise to many people who are hearing that narrative of polarization and division and think we're just hopelessly divided as a state. 

BRODIE: So to what do you attribute that dichotomy there of voters saying yes, there are these things we agree on and then there are elected officials not making those things happen.

FRANCIS: Well, we've been asked for years and years, why is it that, you know, you're telling us that Arizona voters agree on these things, Arizonans agree on these things and why are we not getting that out of our political system? We are a nonpartisan non-political organization having said that it's really hard for me to look at this information, these data points and not conclude that there's something about the way we're electing our leaders that doesn't reward them for actually responding to the majority of voters. 

BRODIE: So I want to ask you about some of the issue areas that you were asking Arizonans about, and one of them was education and you found both strong support and overall support for a number of policy items including making sure teachers are trained in the most effective approaches to teaching reading, making sure that students can access, students can access a dual enrollment. One of the things that really struck me was there is a policy item that says private schools that receive state funding should be held to the same standards as public schools when it comes to financial reporting requirements, academic reporting requirements and employment standards. The total support was 80% and the strong support was 66%. That's been one of the key areas of disagreement at the state Legislature seemingly for many years now.

FRANCIS: It's so interesting because we did ask about so-called vouchers or some people call them empowerment scholarship accounts. And we were just interested in the outlook of likely voters in the upcoming general election. So we did ask two related questions. We asked if, if Arizona likely voters believe that the funding for vouchers was too much just right or not enough. Interestingly, we did not get a consensus on that. We need 50% or more to make for an issue to make it onto the Arizona voters agenda. So we have that as a floor. We did not reach that in any of those questions. So there's clearly not consensus about the appropriate level of funding on ESAs. However, it was really interesting to me, we had no idea what to expect but that 80% of voters believe that private schools that receive these state funds through the voucher system should be held to the same accountability standards as public schools that receive state funding.

BRODIE: Yeah, that is interesting. You also asked about an issue that has obviously been in the news quite a bit recently, immigration and border security. And you asked about what I think to some policymakers has sort of become the the third rail of immigration policy, which is "comprehensive immigration reform." And again, more than half of the the voters that you talked to said that they support comprehensive immigration reform including a pathway to citizenship.

FRANCIS: Yes. Well, what's interesting about this, and by the way, many of our survey questions have been asked by us in different ways in previous surveys, so this is all very consistent with our previous findings. It was actually way more than half it was 77% overall support enacting comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. We find this over and over in our survey research and that includes 61% of Republicans, 79% of independent unaffiliated and 92% of Democrats.

You know, this is a federal issue for the most part.  But we have found over and over that Arizona voters want to see comprehensive immigration reform. Related to that is an interesting finding that we found great support for bipartisan approaches to issues, not just immigration but others. So we found that 82% of likely voters want leaders to work together to find bipartisan solutions to many issues.

BRODIE: Which is again interesting because that is not the message we keep hearing from a lot of elected officials in terms of being willing or able to cross the aisle and work with people who have different viewpoints or different political party affiliations next to their name.

FRANCIS: Yeah, I mean, it's interesting. So we found that two-thirds of likely voters prefer candidates running for office and ultimately elected leaders who are willing to reach across the aisle and negotiate and come up with solutions. We also found that 40% of voters say that current candidates for statewide and legislative office, only 40%, are talking about what matters to them. 

BRODIE: One of the other issues that you looked at was housing and there was strong support, which maybe isn't that surprising. Pretty much everybody recognizes the need for more housing, more affordable housing in the state. I wonder if this is one of those areas where the proverbial devil is in the details in terms of people say yes, we need more affordable housing, but maybe there's less agreement on how exactly to get there.

FRANCIS: Well, that's such a great question and I should have mentioned that this is the first of two surveys that we're conducting. So we're, we just finished this one in March. Housing is a somewhat new area for us. We're probably going to follow up in our second survey with some additional questions on housing to really dig in a little deeper. But I do think it's notable the very high levels of concern around rental prices and home prices. 84% believe home rental prices are too high and 80% home prices are too high and 78% say that more housing that's affordable is needed in their community. So I understand that these are complex issues in terms of the solutions. But I do think it's important to start off thinking about well, where do we actually agree so that we can at least start off with that understanding that we want the same things, even if we may disagree sometimes on how we get there.

BRODIE: Sure. All right. That is Sybil Francis, president and CEO of the Center for the Future of Arizona. Sybil, thank you so much for the conversation. I appreciate it.

FRANCIS: My pleasure.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.