Arizona ballot
Associated Press

Candidates locked in close primary races who ignore independent voters may be risking everything.

A new statewide poll by the Behavior Research Center shows that a third of all independents questioned say they intend to participate in the upcoming primary, whether through early ballots or simply showing up at the polls on Aug. 26. And another quarter said they’re not sure yet.

That would have significant impact.

The most recent statewide voter registration figures show nearly 34.9 percent of the 3.25 million people eligible to vote are affiliated with none of the four recognized political parties. Republicans make up less than 34.8 percent of the electorate, with Democrats at about 29.5 percent.

Jim Haynes, president of Behavior Research Center, said the implications go beyond the sheer numbers. He said those who have opted to register as independents and moved away from either major party are likely more moderate than those who Haynes calls the “true believers” in each camp — the ones who, until now, have controlled the nomination process. And that, Haynes said, could provide a boost to candidates from both parties who appeal more to the political center.

Haynes conceded that what people tell pollsters now does not necessarily translate to what they will do. But Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell said she has reason to believe that the independents will be turning out — and in force.

Her proof? Purcell said she already has requests from 50,000 independents for early ballots. By contrast, she said, only about 43,000 independents voted two years ago, a figure that includes both those who voted early and those who showed up on Election Day at the polls.

Purcell said she is counting on most of those 50,000 actually voting.

“They have made a special effort,” she said, versus those who are on the permanent early voting list and automatically get a ballot in the mail without doing anything.

“To me, they have already invested in this election,” Purcell said, predicting 90 percent of those 50,000 early ballots will be returned.

On top of that, Purcell said about 500,000 of the county’s more than 700,000 registered independents — more than half the tally of the entire state — already are getting early ballots, meaning they need do little more than mark and return them.

“It’s going to make a tremendous difference,” she said of a high turnout by independents in partisan primaries. “People better be appealing to those independent voters if they want to go anywhere.”

Pollster Earl de Berge said the impact of independents could be enhanced if significant numbers of Republicans avoid certain races or do not turn out at all. He said, for example, that the number of Republicans who say they are undecided among the six candidates for governor is in the 50 percent range, something he said is quite unusual given that early voting starts in a week.

The live telephone survey of 703 adult heads of household was conducted earlier this month. The margin of error among those who identified themselves as independent is 6.5 percentage points.

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