A smaller percentage of Arizonans went to the polls this year than in either of the last two presidential elections.
Final figures from the November election, released Monday, show more than 2.3 million people cast ballots. That translated into a turnout of slightly less than 74.4 percent.
That compares with nearly 77.7 percent in 2008, and 77.1 four years before that.
But Secretary of State Ken Bennett said it could have been worse: He said turnout nationwide this year was 9 percent below the last presidential race.
Bennett said he would “only be guessing’’ why the drop off in voter interest. And he proffered no explanation of why that reduction was smaller here than elsewhere.
But Jim Haynes, president of the Behavior Research Center which does political polling in Arizona, said there were some factors at play, both nationally and locally, that could account for the figures. And at the top of the list, he said, was the difference between the level of interest now and four years ago in the race at the top of the ticket.
“Part of what drove the turnout in 2008, I think, was the excitement that Obama was able to generate through his campaign,’’ Haynes said.
“By all reports, he had an awful lot of brand-new voters and people that were, for a variety of reasons, motivated to vote in that election,’’ he explained. “That excitement wasn’t there, certainly not to the same level in 2008.’’
Haynes said, though, that there were other factors at work in Arizona which kept the turnout reduction here from being as big as elsewhere. And much of that, he said, was driven by other races for federal offices.
He said that includes the hotly contested contest for the open U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jon Kyl. Republican Jeff Flake managed to keep that in GOP hands after fending off a strong challenge by Democrat Richard Carmona.
But Haynes also pointed to the fact that Arizona ended up with three very hotly contested races for the U.S. House, complete with the creation of a new 9th congressional district in Maricopa County. He said that virtually all of the House races in the last decade were considered less politically competitive.
Added to all of that, he said, was a high-profile fight over a permanent increase in state sales taxes as well as what would have been a major change in future elections by creating a system of nonpartisan primaries. Both went down to defeat.
Haynes said there may be something else that is harder to quantify: voter turnoff from negative campaigning.
“You hear people constantly just say, ‘However things come out, I’ll be glad when Nov. 6 comes and goes so I don’t have to watch these stupid ads anymore,’” he said. “And I’ll have to say, I was one of them.’’
And Haynes said if these ads, especially from independently funded groups, become the norm, turnout will continue to shrink “because I think people just don’t want anything to do with it anymore.’’