Gov. Jan Brewer’s decision to remove the state’s redistricting chairwoman has left a bad impression on voters, according to a poll released Tuesday.
Brewer’s handling of the situation could have some long-term implications for both the governor and the Republican Party in Arizona, the pollster said.
The poll of 500 Arizonans, which was conducted by Public Policy Polling from Nov. 17-20, showed that 43 percent opposed Mathis’ removal, 31 percent supported it and 26 percent had no opinion.
Nearly three-quarters of Democrats – 72 percent – opposed the removal, while 54 percent of Republicans supported it.
The most significant numbers in the poll, however, are the way independent voters responded, said Public Policy Polling Director Tom Jensen.
Among voters who said they didn’t belong to a political party, only 19 percent supported the removal, while 41 percent opposed it. The remaining 40 percent had no opinion.
“The way people are responding to redistricting is very much a reflection of how they already see Brewer,” Jensen said. “What’s really going to hurt her is how badly she’s doing with independents.”
He said that, for those who don’t affiliate themselves with either party, the handling of the redistricting commission could become a campaign issue for Democrats in 2012.
Knowing that independents disapproved of Brewer’s decision to remove Mathis, Democrats could hold her up as an emblem of foul play by Republicans in order to win their votes next year.
“Something like this looks like a power grab,” Jensen said. “It reflects a belief that Republicans are playing dirty tricks when it comes to redistricting.”
The poll also gauged Brewer’s overall approval ratings, which have declined since April 2010. In a poll conducted immediately after she signed SB1070, 52 percent of voters approved of Brewer and 30 percent disapproved of her. According to the latest poll, Brewer’s approval rating has sunk to 42-49.
David Berman, a political science professor at Arizona State University, agreed with Jensen and said issues like this can easily get spun into campaign gold.
“I think the Democrats will use Brewer as a campaign tactic,” he said. “When the approval ratings go down like this, they get propped up as the icon of what other politicians are running against.”
Berman said the only way Brewer and other Republicans who have been aligned with her on the redistricting issue can improve their public opinion is to simply back away from it.
“I don’t exactly know how she got herself into this mess, and it certainly isn’t good for the Republicans. They’re going to have to reformulate their game plan,” he said. “I would think they would do the very logical thing and let the commission finish the maps, then challenge them in court.”
Gubernatorial spokesman Matthew Benson said that Brewer did what she thought was the right thing for Arizona, not what would please voters.
“The removal wasn’t poll-tested,” Benson said. “She has been in elected office for more than 25 years. She didn’t achieve that sort of success by holding her finger to the wind to see what public opinion is on an issue.”
The poll has a margin of error of +/-4.4 percent. Public Policy Polling describes itself as a Democratic polling firm, but New York Times poll expert Nate Silver said in 2010 the firm displayed a slight bias toward Republican candidates.