Proposition 204 promised to put increased funding into schools across the state by permanently extending a temporary 1-cent sales tax that dedicated the revenue to education.
But strong support for the tax when voters approved it in 2010 fractured in 2012, revealing a partisan divide.
Precinct-level vote analysis done jointly by the Arizona Capitol Times and the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting suggests that Prop. 204 was supported by Democrats and opposed by Republicans. But opposition among Republicans was significantly more enthusiastic than support among Democrats.
Where Democratic registration was stronger, so was the vote for Prop. 204. The opposition vote was stronger in Republican-saturated precincts.
Meanwhile, Republicans were more likely to vote on the measure than were Democrats. Where Republican registration was stronger, the drop-off rate between voting for the top-of-the-ticket race (the presidential candidates) and voting for Prop. 204 decreased. The outcome in Democratic-leaning areas was the opposite, meaning that highly Republican areas were more likely to weigh in on the issue.
That stronger Republican enthusiasm, coupled with the stronger likelihood that Republican areas would oppose the measure, spelled doom for the proposition.
The scatter plot below shows the partisan composition of a precinct (vertical axis) – red for Republican percentage and blue for Democratic percentage – correlated to the vote percentage for Proposition 204 (horizontal axis) for the precinct.
Ann Eve Pedersen, chairwoman of the Prop. 204 campaign committee, said the strength of the Republican opposition doesn’t come as a surprise, but that it reflects how Republicans framed what she called a “miscommunication” campaign.
“Before there was an opposition campaign, we saw widespread support, across the board, with Republicans, Democrats and independents,” Pedersen said.
Once an opposition campaign coalesced, Pedersen said she saw Republicans mischaracterizing what the proposition would do and using it as a way to drive Republican turnout more generally.
Pedersen said that ballot propositions often are used to drive turnout by putting controversial social-issue propositions on the ballot that politicians know will motivate certain voters.
Since there was no such proposition on the ballot in Arizona this year, Pedersen said, Republicans latched onto this ballot measure because it was the most fitting one to lure Republican voters to the polls.
“I don’t have evidence that happened, but that’s what I suspect and these numbers bear that out,” Pedersen said. “They said money from this would be used for abortions. That was absolutely untrue, but they knew it would resonate with certain voters.”
Opponents of the measure could not be reached for comment on Pedersen’s views.
State Treasurer Doug Ducey, who led the opposition campaign to Prop. 204, said Pedersen’s theory is not backed by reality, and that he urged Arizonans to vote against the measure because the bill was a “special interest payout” that was simply a bad idea.
Ducey also said he thinks it was not a partisan bill at all.
“Voters saw this for what it was: A bad idea,” Ducey said. “There’s nothing beyond the fact that it lost two-to-one.”