By IAIN WOESSNER
Cronkite News Service
PHOENIX -- Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration sweeps have made him a lightning rod for criticism by interest groups and some public officials, but he's still popular with the public, according to Cronkite/Eight Poll.
Sixty-one percent of Maricopa County voters said they strongly approved or approved of Arpaio's performance, while 35 percent disapproved or strongly disapproved and 4 percent had no opinion. Meanwhile, 60 percent said they disagreed with a recent decision to take away the sheriff's authority to enforce federal immigration laws on the street, while 36 percent agreed and 4 percent had no opinion.
"I think even though a lot of the media doesn't like Sheriff Joe the more they rail against him, the more popular he is," said Bruce Merrill, a retired Arizona State University professor who directs the poll. "It just brings to bear in the minds of people that illegal immigration is a problem, and every poll we do just shows that people want someone to fight illegal immigration."
Arpaio said he was pleased with the results.
"After 17 years I'm still around those figures," he said in a phone interview.
The sheriff said he's popular because he's loyal to the public.
"I report to the people," he said. "I don't report to any politician or bureaucrat."
Arpaio has drawn criticism from civil rights organizations, immigrants rights groups, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and others for holding what he calls crime-suppression sweeps that have led to the arrest of many illegal immigrants. Earlier this month, the Obama administration removed his authority to enforce federal immigration laws beyond his jails, but Arpaio has said he will continue the sweeps.
Lydia Guzman, president of the Hispanic civil rights group Somos America and an outspoken critic of Arpaio, said that the results of the poll aren't surprising.
"Joe Arpaio has a way of spinning the media and spinning the truth behind what is actually happening," Guzman said in a phone interview. "He's a master of spin."
Another Maricopa elected official, County Attorney Andrew Thomas, also received generally high ratings, with 44 percent of respondents approving or strongly approving of his performance and 23 percent disapproving.
The poll, conducted Oct. 22-25 (2009) by Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and public television station Eight/KAET, involved 652 registered voters. It has a statewide margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points and plus or minus 5 percentage points in Maricopa County.
The Cronkite School operates Cronkite News Service.
The poll also found that:
- Fifty-four percent of respondents said they don't plan to get a vaccine against the H1N1 flu strain, while 41 percent said they planned to and 5 percent were undecided.
- Two-thirds said it's important or very important for Congress to vote this year on health care reform, but half said they oppose the federal government creating a public insurance option to compete with private insurers.
- Voters have mixed opinions of Gov. Jan Brewer's peformance, with 39 percent approving or strongly approving, 39 percent disapproving or strongly disapproving and 22 percent with no opinion.
- Fifty-five percent approved or strongly approved of Attorney General Terry Goddard's performance, while 17 percent disapproved or strongly disapproved and 28 percent had no opinion.
- Most respondents don't know enough about Secretary of State Ken Bennett or State Treasurer Dean Martin to offer an opinion of their performance, though those who did generally approved.