Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

May 5, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Changing Voter Registration

  |   Video
  • The Democratic party in Arizona lost registered voters in the latest report, and the Republican party lost even more. More and more Arizonans are registering as independents. Cronkite-Eight Poll Director Dr. Bruce Merrill analyzes the change in Arizona’s voter registration numbers.
Guests:
  • Dr. Bruce Merrill - Director, Cronkite-Eight Poll
Category: Elections

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Thanks for joining us on "Horizon." Voter registration in Arizona is on the rise. There are more than 3.1 million registered voters in our state, about 1.1 million Republican and just over a million are Democrats. Nearly 900,000 are Independent. Since last year's general election, Democrats have registered at a faster rate than Republicans, but neither party is keeping up with Independent voters for registration. Earlier I spoke with Dr. Bruce Merrill, Director of the Cronkite/Eight poll about changing Arizona's political landscape. And Bruce, thank you so much for joining us on "Horizon."

Bruce Merrill:
Delighted to be here.

Ted Simons:
What do you make of the registration number sentence?

Bruce Merrill:
Arizona is going through the same process the whole nation is going through. People are turned off to both political parties, frankly. The big increase, both parties in Arizona are losing members. The only group increasing are independents or the other category. In five years there will be more Independents in Arizona than either Republicans or Democrats so big changes are occurring.

Ted Simons:
Let's go with each party. The G.O.P., numbers are down. Why?

Bruce Merrill:
Well, I think for a lot of reasons. Number one, we've gone through a presidential election where the Democrats have a very, very strong, very attractive candidate in Barack Obama. That had a big impact, particularly with young people all across the nation and in Arizona. The other thing that's happening in the Republican Party, two things that are very, very important is, number one, there's a big division in the Republican Party between the more conservative religious right Republicans and more moderate Republicans. That split is about as big as it's been in the last 40 years that I've been in Arizona. And the Republican Party is in danger of becoming a white, right-wing party that's kind of a very conservative party. If that happens, that's not where the nation is going. America is becoming a much more pluralistic, multicultural society. And so the Republican Party frankly is kind of out of step with what's happening.

Ted Simons:
Let's go Democrats now. Their numbers are down in Arizona, as well. Why?

Bruce Merrill:
Well, in this particular case what happened is that John McCain is from Arizona. I honestly believe -- again, this is just my own opinion -- but if the last election were held and John McCain had not been from Arizona, I think Arizona would have actually voted for the Democrats this time. A lot of it is demographic change. What happens in Arizona, you have an increasing Hispanic population that makes the population much younger. Hispanics are two to one Democratic over Republican. At the current rate, Hispanics will be 50% of Arizona's population in 25 years.

Ted Simons:
So you see this as a clear trend, as opposed to maybe fallout from the last election.

Bruce Merrill:
Absolutely. I think this simply reflects what's happening in America. America is changing as a nation. It is a very different nation than it was 25, 30, 40 years ago. And I think the thing that overrides a lot of this is simply the alienation that people have towards political parties in general. They don't think either political party is addressing the needs of the people.

Ted Simons:
With that said, could there be a third party, an independent party, a centrist pragmatic party? Could that blossom or is that just too difficult?

Bruce Merrill:
Not only difficult but almost impossible in America. We have single-member districts with plurality election. That's a winner take all system. It's almost impossible for a third political party to exist more than a single election or two. Think back to the American Independent Party with George Wallace, 22, 23% of the vote. Within a year, the Republicans moved over and took a more conservative position and kind of coaxed those people to come and vote Republican. In America we have a two-party system; the role of third parties is to bring about change in one of the other two parties. So not likely.

Ted Simons:
Is it likely, though, that the Republican Party, instead of veering further right, starts becoming more centrist? Or the Democrats, instead of becoming more centrist, start veering further left, could we not see a shift back to the Republican Party? Are you saying demographics are really more at play here?

Bruce Merrill: The demographics are at play but what you've described has tended to happen in America in the past. As the Democrats get bigger, they will end up with more factions within the party. Then they will start fighting. One of those factions tends to break off and becomes absorbed by the minority party. I think the greater danger here is that, because we communicate in mass communication and people are so turned off the partisan politics, I think the greater danger is this growing number of independents, frankly about 60% of the people in America that are registering as independents are under 25 years of age. They are either coming in as Democrats or as independents. That's going hurt the Republican Party. We know, Ted, that once a person acquires partisanship, once you become a Republican or Democrat, very little change occurs through the rest of your life. So you have these cohorts that move through the system. Right now, as the oldest cohort passes away, you're actually losing more Republicans than Democrats, because the Republicans controlled politics when they came into the system some 40 years ago.

Ted Simons:
Last question: As far as Arizona compares to neighboring states -- and we'll include California, as well, still a neighboring state -- compare and contrast.

Bruce Merrill:
Well, exactly the same process is happening in New Mexico. I'm not that up on Texas politics, but it's clearly happening in California, and across the southwest, particularly. The southwest is really developing. If you go back and look at a map, an electoral map, at the southwest particularly, say, four, five, six years ago, it is clearly changing from Republican to swing to Democrat. That's what's happening in Arizona.

Ted Simons:
All right, Dr. Bruce Merrill, always a pleasure. Thanks for joining us.

Bruce Merrill:
Good to be here, Ted.

Swine Flu Update

  |   Video
Guests:
  • Will Humble - Acting Director,Arizona Department of Health Services
  • Dr. Bob England - Director, Maricopa County's Department of Public Health
Category: Medical/Health

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. State lawmakers took some official first steps today toward balancing a projected $3 billion budget deficit in 2010. The House Appropriations Committee heard a series of budget-related bills, and endorsed the main money bill on an 8-5 party line vote. The bill cuts state spending by about $630 million. It takes nearly $400 million from a variety of dedicated funds, and relies on nearly $1 billion in federal stimulus funding. It raises more than $500 million in non-tax revenues. Three valley schools forced to close because of the swine flu were allowed to reopen today, earlier than expected. Maricopa County health officials believe the H1N1 flu or swine flu is no more dangerous now than the seasonal flu. The county's public health director is recommending that schools in Maricopa County no longer be closed due to a confirmed case of the virus. Here with the latest on swine flu is Will Humble, acting director of the Arizona Department of Health Services. And Dr. Bob England, Director of Maricopa County's Department of Public Health. Thank you both for joining us on "Horizon."

Bob England:
Thanks.

Ted Simons:
Bob, let's start real quickly. Where are we right now, what's going on?

Bob England:
We are keeping our guard up, watching this very closely. We had enough information by the weekend to make the decision that yes, indeed, this flu is behaving just like regular seasonal flu, so we could begin to treat it just like regular seasonal flu, but we've got to keep our eye on it. Brand-new strains that can become a pandemic do evolve and come back in waves over time. And either in this first wave or in future waves it might become a virus that makes people sicker than it is at this point. We're watching it like a hawk.

Ted Simons:
How did the state and county, all public health officials around the state, how did y'all handle this thing?

Will Humble:
I think we did really well. There's two aspects to this that I think went really well. Number one, the logistics of it. We got the national supplies in, got them out to the county health departments. And those supplies were available should this have been worse than it was. The logistics were good. The epidemiology was good. I think our surveillance worked well with hospitals and clinicians. We got samples in quickly. Our laboratory scientists worked well to get good answers quickly. The key is really this putting all that together, the epi-data, putting it together to make good decisions. That's really ultimately what made this thing go well, is that we made good decisions as we went. And as Bob just mentioned, one of the key decisions over the weekend was, you know, it was really clear from the surveillance data, from the severity data on this virus, that it didn't make sense to keep closing schools. So that was a key decision, because it demonstrated that we were able to synthesize all of this information. Actually we were ahead of the curve. C.D.C. was not calling -- they were still calling for school recommendations over the weekend. They changed that today. We were ahead of the curve on that. I think that also demonstrates the fact that the surveillance system worked and we were independent enough to make the call early so that we didn't send a bunch of kids out of school again.

Bob England:
And state and local working together to make that determination, it's been a very good working relationship in the middle of a crisis, which was a very good decision.

Ted Simons:
How is that determination made? How do you decide it's time to close a school, and how do you decide its okay to reopen them?

Bob England:
Everybody in the world was very cautious at the beginning. This has been less than two weeks that we even knew this existed. Brand-new virus and we knew that past pandemics could be very bad. It behooved us to treat this very cautiously and do what we could to slow down the spread until we had enough data to be sure that we were more comfortable, that at least so far it's behaving like the regular flu. That was what we were able to do. Also, we were able to determine really quickly that this is very widespread. It wasn't limited to just a few schools, it made no sense to close schools that just happened to be ones where children had been tested and you could tell that it was there. If we were going to continue the same kind of control, we would have had to have closed all the 5 schools and this virus just didn't merit that.

Ted Simons:
Some might say there was a bit of an overreaction. Do you agree?

Bob England:
I don't think so. We made the right decisions at the right time. The C.D.C. guidance was appropriate at the very initial phase when we didn't yet know what we were facing. That's a tool in our toolbox that we will pull back out and use if we need to. If this virus looks like its getting worse, we will do whatever we need to do to protect this community, that and more, if it's really bad.

Ted Simons:
Do you think there was an overreaction?

Will Humble:

I really don't think there was an overreaction. If you roll back the screen to a week ago, there was a handful of cases in the whole country. We didn't really know how severe it was. And we had this information from Mexico that made it seem like, holy smokes, this is the real thing. That's really what it looked like last Tuesday a week ago. Look at how much information that we have between then and now, and it's not a ton of information. But we really drilled down to the issue of severity and looked at hospitalizations, looked at deaths, making sure that we were capturing all of what we call unexplained deaths, so we were making sure that we were making a good call based on severity. Using that information, we backed off, and we backed off quicker than the rest of the country.

Bob England:
When we say this is no more severe than the regular flu, regular flu can be really bad. People die from the regular flu. Hundreds of people die every year because they got the regular flu. 36,000 in an average year in the United States die from complications of the flu. So just like that, people will get very sick and some people will die from this, too, and we have to be ready to expect that.

Ted Simons:
That being said, when it came out of Mexico, the first reports seemed so severe, lots of deaths, lots of serious illness, it didn't seem to translate here. Or was that just a regular flu season in Mexico?

Bob England:
It may well have been. We still don't have the data that we would like. It will be quite a while before we have a clear picture of what happened. But Mexico City is enormous, there are 20 million who live there. Thousands die in Mexico City in a regular flu season. It could be that it had been there long enough to become very widespread, and the fraction of people who get tested, just as here, the fraction tested are the people who are the most sick. In fact, that's the only people we want tested at this point. We've got plenty of tests to show that it's widespread. Because people who are sick in the hospital, near death, may be the ones who are tested, that's what it would look like at first when you're very first test results come rolling out.

Ted Simons:
Interesting. Are you concerned now about a possible flu rebound come the fall?

Will Humble:
Well, we're always concerned about a flu rebound in the fall. Guess what, it happens every single year. Every year, either from usually sometime between November 1st and January 15th or so, we see a big spike in influenza here in Arizona. It could come earlier or later, but it always comes. And so, really, the focus here is to get folks to think about -- especially that time of year -- making sure they get their regular vaccine, and do that basic personal hygiene, hand-washing kinds of things, making sure they don't go out when they are sick and so forth.

Bob England:
Whether it continues to spread is out of our hands. It's more in the hands of the community to follow those simple things that we just mentioned. The good news about this, if it comes back in another wave in the fall, hopefully we may have had time to produce a vaccine. If we do have a vaccine available, though, I think it's doubtful that we'll have enough for everyone who wants it or should have it. So the next issue we may have to face is who gets that vaccine first, how do we lay that out. And we need to learn from what we're seeing in this right now. We've got a lot of children with this; clearly children transmit the flu great, to people who are more susceptible of complications. Maybe we need to take the information and think hard about taking our limited vaccine and targeting it to our kids first, to help prevent spread in the community.

Ted Simons:
Wish we could go a little longer on this. Sounds like things are pretty safe in hand for now.

Bob England:
Yep, we're watching it like a hawk.

What's on?

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