By: Paul Bentz
In 2012, more than 2.3 million Arizona voters turned out for the November general election. Months earlier, only 870,000 voted in the August primary. It’s a trend that holds up over several election cycles — significantly fewer voters participate in primary elections.
Over 825,000 voters regularly participate in general elections, but skip the primaries altogether. More than 40 percent of these voters are independent.
Why don’t they vote? If they did vote, and that’s a big “if,” what would happen?
First, candidates would have to broaden the scope of who they talk (and listen) to. Candidates really do represent the people who elect them — it just so happens that their electors are usually a small, fiercely partisan subsection of the electorate.
Candidates often ignore those who don’t vote and don’t communicate with them. If the electorate got bigger, we would expect the candidates would shift their positions and communications accordingly.
Surveys have shown that independent types tend to emphasize education and economic policies over more partisan litmus test social issues that dominate party primaries. If independents voted, candidates would likely shift in a more populist direction.
Finally, most primaries feature candidates running to the ideological fringes and then trying to creep back toward the middle as the general election approaches. One would expect candidates who occupy a pragmatic policy space and have the money to convey that message would have a significantly improved chance of being elected.