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Independents continue adding to share of Arizona’s electorate

Voter-registration figures showing that independents are increasing their share of Arizona’s electorate reflect that the major political parties are becoming more polarized and alienating voters, a political scientist said Oct. 27.

“The Republican Party is leaning more to the conservative right and the Democrats are leaning more to the liberal left,” said Bruce Merrill, a retired Arizona State University professor who directs the Cronkite-Eight Poll. “People are dissatisfied and looking for a home but not finding it with either party.”

October voter-registration figures from the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office show that 29.4 percent of voters registered as independents or with unrecognized political parties, an increase of 91,531 from October 2008. Independents accounted for 27.6 percent of voters last October and 24.8 percent in October 2004.

Merrill said that another factor behind the increase in independents is more people coming into the system who are younger, educated and moderate in their political views.

“People are tired of the bickering in Washington and don’t see anything being done except partisan conflict,” he said.

In the latest report, Republicans gained 14,230 voters since October 2008 and account for 36.3 percent of the electorate, down from 37.4 percent. Democrats gained 19,163 voters since October 2008 and account for 33.4 percent of the electorate, down from 34.2 percent.

Democrats saw a slight gain in overall share last year, when Barack Obama won the presidency. In all, there are 3,118,478 registered voters in the state. Of those, 1,132,817 are Republican and 1,041,415 Democrat, while 915,981 registered as independent or with unrecognized parties. The Libertarian Party has 24,028 voters, up from 18,153 in October 2008, and the Green Party has 4,237 voters, up from 4,009 a year ago.

Matt Roberts, a spokesman for the Arizona Republican Party, said some of the GOP decline could stem from policies of the Bush administration, especially deficit spending. But he said former Republican voters who are now independents will be more likely to vote for the party in 2010, when Arizona elects a governor.

“I think since it is not a presidential election year the candidates will be able to present their messages more effectively and resonate with constituents,” Roberts said.

Jennifer Johnson, spokeswoman for the Arizona Democratic Party, said decreases for both parties could be due to this summer’s legislative gridlock over the state budget. She disagreed that GOP voters who turned independent would tend to favor that party next year.
“Somebody who was registered as a Republican but took the time to register again as an independent is probably making a statement,” Johnson said.

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