While Joe Arpaio’s political dominance carried him to a sixth term as Maricopa County sheriff, his 2012 re-election reveals a geographically divided electorate and dwindling support among Republican-leaning suburbanites.
An Arizona Capitol Times analysis shows that the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America” earned a 50.7 percent re-election in a three-way race with support mostly coming from the white outskirts of the county. And though Arpaio lost in the more minority-concentrated metro center of the county, he also lost some areas on the cusp that lean Republican.
Arpaio lost geographically distinct, Republican-leaning pockets throughout the county, especially among upper-middle class suburbanites closer to the Democratic leaning metro center of the Valley, and in Republican-leaning areas that also have higher than average minority composition, both areas where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney fared better.
Arpaio didn’t carry areas where Republicans outnumber Democrats in Ahwatukee, Tempe, Chandler, west Mesa, Paradise Valley, northeast Phoenix, south Scottsdale and some isolated precincts in Glendale and Peoria.
And the disparity between support in the outer ring of the county and the strong vote against Arpaio in the central part of the county is stark. Central and west Phoenix gave him less than 20 percent of the vote, while the most rural outer areas gave him more than 70 percent support.
Mapping Arpaio’s vote
Voting precincts are colored red to blue based on the percentage of the vote Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio received. Areas outlined in black show where Arpaio received less than 50% of the vote, but where Republicans outnumber Democrats by party registration. Click on precincts to see detailed information about the vote, partisan advantage and minority composition.
Arpaio, who has seen declining voter support since 2000, has in recent years been dogged by an intense backlash over his illegal immigration enforcement tactics, particularly among the growing Hispanic community. He has been under federal investigation for possible racial profiling since 2009. His office has also been accused of financial mismanagement, ignoring sex crime investigations and politically motivated arrests.
At the same time, Arpaio has remained a Republican icon among the most ideologically adherent conservatives. For many Republican politicians, especially lesser-known candidates who benefit from associating themselves with a known face and name, his endorsement has been a sought after goal.
Michael O’Neil, president and CEO of the public opinion research firm O’Neil Associates, said the election results are not surprising.
“He was the most popular guy in the state, but he’s been on a long slow ride down,” O’Neil said. “The question was, ‘Could he hang on this one last time?’ And he only won by a hair. It looks like his last hurrah.”
There are a few common threads among the areas where Arpaio lost despite a Republican registration advantage, O’Neil said, the most prevalent being education and money.
Geographically, O’Neil said, the two go hand in hand. And those bedroom communities on the edge of the more diverse, politically liberal metro Phoenix area are full of relatively affluent and more highly educated voters who are willing to vote against a controversial figure, even if they share party affiliation.
“He’s worn thin with more educated people,” O’Neil said, “And a couple of those areas have a higher minority population, and that’s probably part of it, too.”
Research showed that Arpaio had weaknesses that are now visible in the vote patterns, said Frank Camacho, a Democratic Party spokesman.
Arpaio’s crime suppression sweeps in minority-dense areas may have ossified opposition to him among the politically ascendant Hispanic community. The push to mobilize more Hispanic voters can account for areas like south Scottsdale and west Mesa. Meanwhile, some white voters may have soured on the reputation Arpaio’s office had developed for financial mismanagement and legal tanglings.
“It was the waste of taxpayer dollars and jail tax proceeds which pissed off Anglo voters,” Camacho said.
A Republican can probably still win the county’s top lawman spot, O’Neil said, because of the county’s natural Republican leaning, but he said the most recent election may make another win impossible for Arpaio.
“If Arpaio were to retire, it would probably increase the Republican hold (on the position), because they could elect a Republican with less jagged edges,” he said. “In four years, there might be private conversations between Republicans about a better candidate.”
However, Arpaio has already declared that he will run for re-election again in 2016.
“Of course I’m running again. I’m not a lame duck. And I expect to win in 2016,” Arpaio told the Arizona Capitol Times.
He blames the media and President Barack Obama for the bad publicity he’s had in recent years.
Arpaio said the support disparity between the central part of the county and the outskirts has to do with the fact that Phoenix has its own police department, whereas smaller municipalities on the outskirts of the county get police service from his office. However, Arpaio lost in some parts of those areas as well.
“The bottom line is, I won by six percent, which is a landslide,” Arpaio said. “It was a very satisfying victory.”
Arpaio’s election totals over time