Independents pass Republicans, now Az’s largest voting bloc
Independents have surpassed Republicans as Arizona’s largest bloc of voters, following a national trend, the Secretary of State Ken Bennett’s Office announced Monday.
Of Arizona’s 3.2 million registered voters, 1,134,243, or 34.9 percent, don’t indicate an affiliation with a political party. Republicans follow closely behind independents with 1,130,170 registered voters. Democrats account for 960,701.
Since the last report in January, independents have seen an increase of 10,245 voters. Registered Democrats dropped by 2,127, while registered Republicans dropped by 1,093.
Bennett said that the increase in independent voters has taken place over the last two decades, mirroring a national trend, and comes as no surprise given that more than 40 percent of Americans identify as independent.
“Voters become more and more maybe disenchanted with the idea of just following the political philosophy of a particular party, and they’re more focused on what’s the vision and the record and the plan of individual candidates,” he said.
Bennett said although independents are now the majority, only 10 percent participate in primary elections. Under Arizona law, independents must specify a party ballot to vote in primaries.
“To the extent that they continue to be a larger bloc but not participate at normal rates or party rates in the primaries, they’re losing their effectiveness in helping to decide who party nominees are,” Bennett said. “They can remedy that a bit by the time they get to the general election, but choices have been narrowed.”
Arizona’s registered independents surpassed registered Democrats in early 2011.
DJ Quinlan, executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party, said the growing number of independent voters seems to be driven primarily by younger voters.
“Those who are under 30? Nearly half are registered as independent,” he said. “Young voters don’t necessarily feel like they need to be affiliated with a political party. What we’ve been watching is how crucial it is for us to discuss topics relevant to these voters.”
Tim Sifert, communications director for the Arizona Republican Party, said GOP candidates are conscious of the need for independent voter support. But he said he expects Republicans to maintain their advantage in statewide races.
“The contrast that you have to look at though is that Arizona is a very red state,” he said. “Just look at the results of recent elections. There are clear Republican majorities.”
Arizona State University political science professor Rodolfo Espino said candidates cannot ignore the importance of independents and will have to cater a bit to this growing bloc.
“Generally, they will have to moderate their positions more closely,” he said. “The candidates that do emerge that will have to do a sort of flip-flop, though if you do the flip-flop thing so dramatically it can hurt you.”