Arizona's independent voters eye GOP primaries

PHOENIX -- Maybe it's the ferocity of the races. But four out of 10 registered independents questioned by pollster Earl de Berge say they intend to exercise their legal right to influence the outcome of the Aug. 24 primary.

And most of them are more interested in the Republican races.

The new Behavior Research Center survey, released Monday, shows a sharp increase in the upcoming primary since the question was last asked in April. At that time, only 26 percent of independents expressed some interest in voting.

If the independent turnout is anywhere close to the numbers de Berge is showing, that will be a major departure from historic patterns. Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne said historically that only about 10 percent of independents have asked for a ballot in prior primaries.

It also means that candidates who have been busy trying to woo party faithful will need to make an extra effort to be sure to seek out independent voters.

That can also add to the expense of a campaign.

The latest voter registration counts show more than 942,500 people who have chosen not to affiliate with any of the four political parties recognized in Arizona. That's about 30.5 percent.

In fact, in Maricopa County there are more independents than Democrats.

That means mailings have to go out to independents, as do phone calls and other campaign literature.

Primaries in Arizona were closed affairs until 1998 when voters agreed to let independents participate. But they need to choose which in party's affair they want to vote and cannot, for example, vote in the Democratic primary for governor and the Republican primary for Congress.

The other restriction, more recent, takes the Libertarian Party off the table. Attorneys for that party got a judge to rule that they can keep their choices to registered party members, though anyone can register as a Libertarian.

At this point, de Berge said there is far more interest among independents in the Republican races: Out of that 40 percent who intend to vote, 28 percent want a GOP ballot, compared with just 12 percent interested in influencing the Democratic races.

He speculated much of that could be due to the higher-profile contested statewide races, including the fight of U.S. Sen. John McCain to hang on to his seat amid challenges by former Congressman J.D. Hayworth and Navy veteran Jim Deakin.

In that race, de Berge said he found that independents apparently are not impressed with Hayworth.

McCain has the support of 71 percent of independents who say they plan to vote in the Republican primary. That compares with his 62 percent margin among registered Republicans.

And 13 percent independents like Deakin, versus just 3 percent of registered Republicans.

There may have been -- at least at the time -- some interest in the gubernatorial race.

The poll was conducted between June 30 and July 11 while changes were occurring in the GOP gubernatorial race. Dean Martin pulled out during the survey period; Buz Mills withdrew afterwards.

That leaves only incumbent Jan Brewer and political newcomer Matt Jette.

But that may not persuade some to now request Democratic ballots, as Terry Goddard is that party's only contender for governor.

The survey of 161 registered independents has a margin of error of 7.9 percent.

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