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Inside primary exit polls: Rise of the moderates?
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Smart v. Stupid

Inside primary exit polls: Rise of the moderates?

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You could be forgiven for imagining that everyone in Arizona is as rabid as the Governor, Jan Brewer. If you live in the rest of the country – especially anywhere in Blue America – it is easy to believe that the megalomaniacal sheriffs, illegal-stomping senators, and finger-wagging governor represent just the kind of people who live in the Great Southwest.

But a look inside the exit polls in Arizona’s recent Republican Primary reveals a far less batshit-crazy electorate than you thought. And remember, these are Republican primary voters; arguably Arizona’s most rightest of right-wingers.

There is nothing remarkable about who these desert dwellers voted for – Romney won every single split. But their attitudes about the issues of the day, while not yet liberal, are not so conservative anymore either.

I’m thrilled about that. My personal love affair with Arizona goes way back to the 1980s. A job took me there. But the lifestyle, the people, and the almost indescribable natural beauty kept me there. The job was over almost before it began, but I stayed in Tucson for more than half a decade. I left for another job and – though my life has been better than wonderful – I have always regretted the choice. Arizona is that kind of place.

Politically, Arizona is one of those weird southern states where south is north and north is south. The southern third, down to the Mexican border, is liberal and fun-loving. You might be surprised to know that illegal immigration isn’t considered much of a crisis down Tucson way. There, SB1070 – the anti-immigrant law – is considered an embarrassment.

But heading north – in a wide, urbanized inkblot in the middle of the state where about half a dozen cities have grown together – is Greater Phoenix. It’s the stretch where all the old folks and rich folks have moved in from up north or back east. And there, Arizona is redder than a Vermont blond after a day of tubing on the Salt River. That’s vivid red, cancer-causing red, Republican red. And that’s where a majority of Arizonans live. (For the record, the northern part of the state, from Flagstaff on, varies widely in its politics.)

This urban blotch is where Sheriff Joe Arpaio practices his personal grudge on brown people, and Sheriff Paul Babeu hisses “build the dang fence” even though his jurisdiction is near 100 miles from the border. This middle swath is where the recently impeached senate president, Russell Pearcem thought up SB1070, the Papers Please Law. And it’s where the shrill and wrinkly governor, Jan Brewer, points her finger up at the man in the White House in order to jumpstart her book sales.

But it is also where only 14% (of Republican primary voters, fer crissakes) think illegal immigration is the most important issue. These are Blue Arizona numbers. Is it possible that even the Republican electorate in Arizona has had it with these goofballs? They did recall Russell Pearce over his anti-immigrant jihad. And lots more exit polling data points to the notion that Arizona Republicans are becoming much more like Arizona Democrats.

Other interesting numbers from the exit polls?

  • 38% have reservations about the Republican they voted for.
  • 75% said their family income was “holding steady” or “getting ahead.”
  • More than a third are pro-choice.
  • More than half believe that a candidate’s religion matters “not much” or “not at all.”
  • Only 36% identified themselves as “born again” or “evangelical.”
  • 84% had attended some college or had a degree.

You can see why Rick Santorum got thrashed here.

So is this a Republican electorate that is becoming more moderate? Or has it always been more mainstream than its elected leaders?

Or is this, as many political scientists have predicted, the first gasp of the last breath of a dying political party – strangled by its own inability to change with a new generation of voters. Surely, only the next election will truly tell. But things are looking pretty good for political trends out among the most beautiful vistas in the nation.

Me? I’m looking for vacation property in Tucson. It looks like a good time for us to rectify that old mistake.

Jimmy Zuma splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Tucson. He writes the online opinion journal, Smart v. Stupid. He spent 5 years in Tucson in the early ‘80s, when life was a little slower, swamp coolers were a little more plentiful, Tucson’s legendary music scene was in full bloom, and the prevailing work ethic was “don’t - unless you have to.”

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