Political middle a necessary strength to help candidates win elections in Arizona

Nov 9, 2023, 4:35 AM

This is the fourth in a five-part series called “Arizona Votes 2024: One Year Out,” which will examine the lead-up to the upcoming election in Arizona. Read part one here, part two here and part three here.

PHOENIX — Arizona has bucked the trend of its historically Republican image as Independent voters narrowly outnumber both Republicans and Democrats in the state.

That becomes especially important as the 2024 election looms and as Arizona once again finds itself as a major political player in the national spotlight.

What type of candidates are Arizonans looking for?

Samara Klar, professor of political science at the University of Arizona, studies politics and how people choose who to vote for.

She told KTAR News 92.3 FM even those with political affiliations tend to be more moderate than their national counterparts.

“The types of candidates in Arizona that really encourage voters to vote are candidates that can successfully say to the electorate, ‘I’m a little centrist, I’m more moderate, I’m nonpartisan, I’m postpartisan,’” Klar said.

Klar said this isn’t a new phenomenon. She pointed to notable Arizona politicians such as late Sens. John McCain and Barry Goldwater as candidates who fit that mold and resonate with Arizonans.

“We’re going to have to see candidates appealing to broad swaths of the electorate, not just to their base, and actually trying to engage them and say, ‘I can represent you,’” Klar said.

What if candidates can’t appeal to the middle?

Finding that candidate can be a challenge, especially when looking at the upcoming presidential race. Two of the main frontrunners, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, are highly polarizing figures.

“It’s not often the nation sees a presidential race like this one,” Brooks Simpson, foundation professor of history at Arizona State University, said. “Both candidates are controversial.

“There are significant parts of both parties that were not happy with that frontrunner but are reluctant to step out against that frontrunner.”

Simpson said that’s because either party that challenges their candidate also risks handing the election over to the other.

That’s if people decide to vote at all. Klar said if a Republican or Democrat doesn’t like their party’s candidate, many will choose to just stay home.

“There’s so many reasons to not do it that when you don’t have a candidate that really excites you, or worst case, when you feel like neither candidate really represents your views at all, then you’ll see more apathy among voters,” said Klar.

How will parties encourage people to get out and vote?

Simpson said that’s why this election will hinge on voters who are motivated by who they want to lose, instead of who they want to win.

“We’re going to have an election which people are told to turn out because you don’t want the other guy to win,” Simpson said. “This is going to be an election more about fear than about hope.”

While the parties might try to impassion their base by creating negative sentiment toward an opposing candidate, that’s not a tactic that will appeal to Arizona’s Independent majority.

Independent does not mean indifferent.

“Independents have ideological perspectives. They are left or they are right or they’re conservative, but what they hate is that exact ‘us versus them’ mentality … they don’t hate the other party, they don’t want to engage in fighting or bickering,” Klar said.

“Voters in Arizona are seeking candidates who are more civil, candidates who have policy preferences but who aren’t necessarily fighting and yelling conspiracy theories. Those are the candidates who have always done well in Arizona, and those are the candidates that will continue to do well in Arizona.”

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Political middle a necessary strength to help candidates win elections in Arizona