Arizona's registered independents now outnumber Democrats - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Arizona's registered independents now outnumber Democrats

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Posted: Monday, January 24, 2011 2:58 pm | Updated: 5:57 pm, Tue Jan 25, 2011.

The disaffection with political parties is now official, at least in Arizona.

New figures Monday from the Secretary of State's Office show there are more people unaffiliated with any political party registered to vote in the state than there are Democrats. That's the first time that has happened.

But Republicans should not be celebrating. The report shows that their day of second-tier status could be coming too.

The percentage of Arizonans listing themselves as members of the Grand Old Party also continues to slide. Since the 2008 presidential election, the party's share of registrants has dropped nearly two percentage points.

Pollster Earl de Berge said the shift is not surprising. But he said the reasons vary.

"I think with younger registrants it is more of a philosophical approach about being disinterested in parties," he said, with these people registering for the first time as independents.

But de Berge said there also appears to be a migration away from affiliation as people who were once enthusiastic about a party now think "it's all a bunch of crap."

Senate Minority Leader David Schapira, D-Tempe, said the new numbers don't make his party an endangered species. Nor does he believe the shift is a bad thing.

"Frankly, I think the independent movement is a good one," he said. "I'm not a huge fan of this just two-party system that we have in Arizona and in the country." He said that means there are "more people who are going to vote based on individuals and qualifications rather than party."

Party spokesman Luis Herrera said he sees a bottom to the slippage. But that game plan involves convincing Republicans to abandon their own party and re-register as Democrats.

Herrera pointed out that members of the Arizona Republican Party on Saturday elected Tom Morrisey as chairman. He said that will push the Republicans "further to the right," causing more moderate GOP voters to flee.

But Republican party spokesman Matt Roberts sees what is happening in his party as just the reverse.

"In the past, I don't think it's any revelation that the Republican Party kind of drifted away from what our principles were," he said. "And we paid the price for that, in terms of voter registration, in terms of election results."

He said the GOP is in the process of "rebranding itself as the party of fiscal responsibility."

While the number of independent voters continues to swell, that has yet to produce a successful candidate for statewide or even legislative office. But de Berge said that lack of success in the latter category is because the system is, in some ways, rigged by the parties.

Arizonans voted in 2000 to take the power to draw lines away from legislators and instead give it to the Independent Redistricting Commission. He said, though, the parties still control the process.

Under this system, two members are chosen by the two top Republicans in the Legislature and two others are picked by the two top Democrats. Those four then choose a fifth who, in the last process, was an independent.

"Not only do they control it, the numbers don't reflect the reality of registration,'' de Berge said. If it did, he said, independents would have at least an equal voice with the two parties.

The result from the last round of redistricting produced only four legislative districts out of 30 where one party or the other did not have an overwhelming edge over the other.

"It's an unfair system and they're going to be darn-well certain that it still is," de Berge said.

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