Registering as Democrat or Republican becomes less fashionable

PHOENIX -- Arizonans continue to desert the two main political parties.

New figures Tuesday from the Secretary of State's Office show 953,503 people who are signed up to vote in next week's primary listed no political affiliation. That is approaching 31 percent of the more than 3.1 million registered voters.

By contrast, independents were only about 27 percent of the electorate two years ago. And a decade ago, fewer than 16 percent of those signed up to vote had declared themselves independents.

The disdain for organized parties seems to have taken roughly equal bites out of both the Democrats and the Republicans.

At the 2000 primary, Democrats comprised 39 percent of those registered. That figure is now down to 32.3 percent.

And Republicans saw their share of registered voters drop from 44.3 percent a decade ago to just 36.1 percent now.

The change has occurred during the time when Arizona law was changed to give independent voters a voice in primaries.

Under the terms of that law, those not registered with any recognized party -- at this point, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian and Green -- are free to ask for a primary ballot for any one party. That does not include the Libertarian Party, however, which managed to get a court to rule that it is entitled to exclude non-party members from its choices.

Jim Haynes, president of Behavior Research Center, said there initially was a fear that partisans would re-register as independents to be able to vote in the primary of the other party "just to do mischief.' But he said all the polling his organization has done indicate that's not the case.

"What we've seen is people that believe the parties have both become too dogmatic and are more into power than they are into doing good for the state,' Haynes said. "There's no doubt that they feel the parties have left them, rather than they've left the party.'

He said, though, that the big shift towards official independence doesn't necessarily change the political landscape in Arizona and the fact that, everything else being equal, a majority of those independents who vote will cast their ballots for Republicans.

Haynes said a survey of independents who intend to vote in next week's primary shows most intend to pick up Republican ballots. He said that shows, in general, where their political beliefs lie.

"It's very possible that Republicans, in keeping with everything else you see on the national scale, are going to have a pretty good time of it in November,' Haynes said.

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