PHOENIX – Arizona’s independent voters have eclipsed Democrats in number and are rapidly gaining on Republicans, but those expecting this group to wield political influence are likely to be disappointed, a nonpartisan research group contends.
That’s because independents are a diverse group that doesn’t fall in line with one political party or have a consistent set of beliefs, according to Thinking Arizona, a Tucson-based organization run by Richard Gilman, former publisher of The Boston Globe.
“It’s very hard to design a position or a platform or an approach that’s going to appeal to all of these people,” Gilman said in a telephone interview.
Analyzing exit poll data from the 2004, 2006 and 2008 elections, the report pointed to three distinct voting tendencies among registered independents: 50 percent considered themselves moderates, 25 percent leaned conservative and 25 percent leaned liberal.
“They’re a hodgepodge of lots of different motivations and thinking and interests in the political process,” Gilman said.
In July, 32.5 percent of Arizona’s registered voters – 1.04 million in all – weren’t affiliated with a political party, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. Republicans made up 35.46 percent of registered voters, while 31.11 percent were Democrats.
Gilman said independents’ lack of political organization shows in their voter turnout. Seven out of 10 registered GOP voters and six out of 10 registered Democrats voted in the 2006 and 2010 general elections, while turnout for independents was five out of 10 in 2006 and four out of 10 in 2010.
Some of the increase in independent voters stems from dissatisfaction with political parties, Gilman said.
“They don’t feel like they are being represented well,” he said.
David Berman, senior research fellow at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, agreed that although registered independents are a large group they aren’t banding together.
“A lot of independents don’t like politics … they just don’t want to get involved,” Berman said in a phone interview.
“It’s a ‘pox on both your houses’ kind of thing,” he added.
Robert Winn, a Maricopa political activist who has run write-in campaigns for governor and Senate as an independent, said independents have more power than the study suggests.
“Independent voters are calling the shots now because they’ve got the numbers,” said Winn, who last year self-published a book called “A House Divided: Political Parties and Independence.”
Joanne Ingram is a reporter for Cronkite News Service