CA120: The voter surge is now

Voters and potential voters at a political rally. (Photo: Joseph Sohm, via Shutterstock)

The June 7  Primary in California is less than two months away.  This means the election actually begins in a little more than three weeks, when voters begin receiving their absentee ballots in the mail.

And voter registration is increasing dramatically.

Until now, the expectations of a surge in participation were set based on the experiences in other states. Nationally, primaries and caucuses have seen record-setting involvement on both the Democratic and Republican sides of the presidential race, and it would be easy to conclude that this enthusiasm would translate to higher than normal rates of registration and turnout here.

Overall, registration has skyrocketed in the first months of 2016.  There have been over 850,000 registrations in the months between January 1 and March 31.

In a previous Capitol Weekly article we explored the normal biorhythms of the California Voter File – how growth in registrations generally peaks right before the Presidential General Elections, but drops, with mild recoveries, in a four-year cycle.

In fact, as we found in that analysis, the only time that the California Voter File ever actually grew in the 18 months prior to a Presidential Primary was in 1980, when Ronald Reagan was on the ballot.CA120_header4

In total registration, the current registration numbers seem lackluster.  At the peak, right before the 2012 General Election, the state topped 18 million voters.  Come the 2014 General Election, registration had actually dropped to 17.8 million, and at the beginning of the year was just 17.2 million.  This is largely an impact of counties cleaning up voter files, like the recent move of 107,000 voters in Orange County to “inactive” status.  This kind of continued cleanup has the impact of negating what has been nearly a million new registrants since the New Year.

But, fortunately, we can look beyond these totals, and dig into analysis of just the actual new registrants by county, party, ethnic group, and other factors.  This also allows us to identify what is actually a surging California electorate while the total number of voter might be right at, or even less than the total number of registrants 18 months ago.

This year we are seeing a doubling of registration growth among Latinos, and a more than 150% increase for some young voters, and a near-tripling for Democrats.

Overall, registration has skyrocketed in the first months of 2016.  There have been over 850,000 registrations in the months between January 1 and March 31.  This is twice as much as was registered during the same period in 2012.  It even exceeds the total new registrations in the months leading up to the 2008 Primary, albeit that was a February primary, so much of the registration window was dominated by the Fall and Winter holidays.

The scale and the timing of this registration boom can be seen in the following chart showing weekly registration rates for 2016 and the comparable weeks in 2012.  Early weeks show modest growth of about 35%, but that skyrockets to several weeks of growth at or exceeding 150%.Poll 1


This registration has also been more partisan in nature than in the same period before the 2012 election.  The voters selecting No Party Preference, or some other minor party, even American Independent Party, has been reduced to second rung among new registrants, where in 2012 it held the top spot in these early weeks of registrations.Poll 2



This skyrocketing registration can be broken out by partisanship, ethnicity and age, and shows some striking differences by group.  In a traditional election year, a 65% growth from the same period of last year would be remarkable.  But this year we are seeing a doubling of registration growth among Latinos, and a more than 150% increase for some young voters, and a near-tripling for Democrats.

Registration Growth Jan 1 – Mar 31, 2016 Compared to 2012

AGE 18-24 70%
AGE 25-30 161%


Looking at some other demographics of the California voter file prior to the 2014 General, the registrants prior to the end of 2015, and comparing to the new and re-registrants since the beginning of 2016 we can see further evidence of a surging registration that has the potential to also shift the California electorate.

Other Registration Demographics

2014 General 2015 2016
Age Under 30 17% 39% 41%
Age 30-49 32% 33% 32%
Age 50-64 29% 17% 16%
Age 65+ 22% 10% 10%
APT 19% 30% 30%
HOMEOWNER 55% 31% 30%
PAV 51% 65% 68%
HOME PHONE 49% 24% 21%
CELL PHONE 22% 39% 44%
EMAILS 24% 44% 53%

Much attention is paid to the age of new registrants.  However, newer registrants are generally younger, both as a function of the number of 18-19 year olds registering to vote for the first time, and the 20-30 year-olds who have moved once or several times since 2008 or 2012.

The fact that young voters are such a large and disproportionate share of the electorate should be weighed against the fact that since Jan. 1 the under-30 rate of registration is only two-points higher than in 2015, when there was no excited surge in registration.

This is also seen in the higher number of apartment registrants and lower numbers for homeowners – a trend that is driven by how transient these voters are, and is not necessarily evidence that the issues being discussed in the election are more appealing to these voters.

To campaigns, a more important factor is the number of new registrants who are selecting to become Permanent Absentee Voters (PAV), particularly if these are Democratic leaning voters who will have to request a Democratic ballot in order to vote in that presidential contest.  Additionally, we see an amazing change in the way that voters can be reached by campaigns or pollsters – only one-in-five of the new registrants have a land-line phone number on the file.  Yet, more than 50% have an email address – more than double the rate of voters with emails on the current file.

A part of this increased use of emails on registrations has to do with the desire of voters to get email confirmation when they register to vote online.

Online registrations show quick responses to events
Online registration has been seen as a convenient way to vote. For analytical purposes, it has the added advantage of being nearly immediate.  A voter excited or fearful of what is happening in the world can easily grab a laptop or smartphone and register at that moment, unlike paper registration where the moment is lost in the tasks of finding, completing and mailing a paper form.

Reviewing the daily rates of voter registration online, we can see some incredible spikes in registration that are consistent with key moments in the primary campaign.  Looking closely, we can deconstruct which voters are reacting to events when they decide to get engaged in the political process.

The following chart shows raw totals for voter registration online.Poll 3

Each of these peaks can be explained by looking at their dates and what national events were taking place on those days.

Online Registrations and Key Dates in Presidential Primary Contests

Date Primary / Caucus Online Reg Democrat Republican NPP/Other Latino
1-Feb Iowa  7,400 53% 18% 29% 21%
9-Feb New Hampshire  6,588 53% 19% 28% 20%
1-Mar Super Tuesday 18,144 57% 14% 29% 25%
15-Mar Florida  11,996 51% 22% 27% 27%
22-Mar Arizona 11,365 48% 28% 24% 23%
ALL 2015  256,801 46% 17% 36% 22%

The highest day of online registration was on Super Tuesday, with 18,144, followed by the two days afterwards, March 2 and 3 at 15,799 and 11,765, respectively.

Comparing this to Google Trends for each of these dates, we can see extremely similar peaks in online conversations and searches about Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, with the highest peaks for Bernie Sanders coming early and Donald Trump’s peaks coming around Super Tuesday and the Florida Primaries. Poll 4


Interestingly, during the greatest peak of Super Tuesday and two days following, we see the lowest new Republican registration at just 14%, the highest Democratic registration at 57%, and the beginning of an increased rate of Latino registration.  The Latino registration continues to grow through this period and peaks two weeks later when Trump wins the Florida Primary.

The real question moving forward is how this registration trend will develop or change in the coming weeks.  In prior years, these early registration numbers were low. But they made a sharp rise immediately before the registration deadline but stretched out until the registration deadline in late May.

In 2012, the last three weeks saw registration rates 50% higher than the weeks of January – March.  If this trend was carried forward to 2016 we would see more than 1.5 million new voters and the largest growth in registration before a Presidential Primary in 30 years.

Ed’s Note:  Paul Mitchell, a regular contributor to Capitol Weekly and the creator of the CA120 column, is vice president of Political Data Inc., and owner of Redistricting Partners, a political strategy and research company. 

  • RC Rust-Laskey

    Glad to see more people are registering as Democrats.

    • LaDiablaBlanca

      Only to vote for Bernie Sanders. Clinton is a corporate rag.

  • Alex

    I registered and I’m voting for Hillary all the way!

    • Joseph M Anthony

      So you want a corrupt Liar that poisons the Earth and and sends children to war?

      • alwaysthink

        Oh, Joseph those old Rove talking points aren’t fooling anyone but the most gullible. Clinton is the most vetted and qualified candidate we’ve ever seen run in our lifetimes. The VRWC has thrown all kinds of charges and conspiracies her way for decades and so far, not even overdue parking tickets have been proven to exist.

        Bernie has lovely slogans but he has come up short in policies and plans to fix things. Hillary has an excellent Progressive agenda and has won over the thinking Left like Tom Hayden who is a Fracking Activist these days. He’s look at both of them and recognizes that Hillary has the best plan to deal with Fracking. And we also have Elizabeth Warren herself praising Hillary’s plan to deal with all of Wall Street beyond just the Banks.

        • Megan Gable

          Hillary supported fracking around the world. She is pro fracking. You are lying about her and her “progressive” ideas. She is not progressive. She is moderate Republican, and a liar. Time and time again LYING. She is under FEDERAL criminal investigation, no this is not a “routine” investigation. This is serious. She is PRO WAR, voted for every disastrous trade deal, fought to LOWER wages in Haiti, was a HORRIBLE SOS. Caused chaos and destruction of Libya, sold MILLIONS of dollars in arms to the middle -east while those dictators donated to the Clinton Foundation. She is corrupt and the worst of them all.

        • Letitia C. Page

          I think if you compare Bernie’s plans- which you can find online on his website, some of which include actual legislation, and all of which go into specifics and detail with the general plans and talking points on Hillary’s site you might be surprised. I know I was. The media has spun this narrative that Bernie’s plans come up short but every expert would disagree, including over 200 leading economists. It’s worth investigating for yourself. Also, Bernie has been in office far longer than Clinton and has an overall better voting record on major events and issues than Hillary. He’s fighting for each and every one of us in a way no other candidate is doing. Please, take a look for yourself and see if you don’t agree. I would also listen to the majority of other climate experts who overwhelmingly say Bernie is by far the stronger candidate on climate change and fracking in particular. I would be interested in seeing where Warren praised Hillary so if you could post that it would be great. Thanks for your time.

        • Alice

          It seems to me Hillary is talking about All of Wall St to distract voters from the corrupt banks, and to discount Bernie’s bank break up plans. Hillary is also not questioned about the how so much. She states ” I will do this and this and go further etc. etc, and I know how to do it.” This answer is has not been challeged llike Bernie’s answers have.
          When she says, “I know how to do it.” My first thoughts are bribery and blackmail. She has given the American people no reason what so ever to trust anything she says. I expect that if she wins the presidency she will put on her flip flops again.

          • Joe

            Aliiiiice! Thank you! I’ve been stating your first point for ages!
            Not once has anyone questioned her on “how” she will go further. How is her plan better than Bernie’s.
            How she gets away with it is laughable.
            She hasn’t got proposals. Her idea for criminal justice reform? To follow the laws that are in place and to talk about it more. The fuck is that. Honestly, people eat this up and believe. Fucking frightening.

          • Timothy Dannenhoffer

            “I am a progressive that gets things done” means she’s not a progressive and will get things done if Republicans let her – and if Republicans let her that means it’s not good for you and I.

        • Joe

          How is she qualified?
          Being Secretary of State doesn’t mean much when you’ve fucked the job up.
          She’s already stated she wants a more muscular foreign policy, so yes, odds are we’ll be going to war under her presidency. Her foreign policy views are more hawkish than anyone that ran this election. Fracking? The women that pushed fracking all around the world has a better plan on fracking?
          The woman that has been funded by Wall St is going to take on Wall St? Seriously?
          Just like she went after the health care industries then? Til they bought her off, that is.
          He doesn’t come up short on policy or plans. He has a step by step process on how to get the things he wants passed, done.
          Don’t spout nonsense.
          However, reading your statement, I do sense a bit of sarcasm. And I’m hoping I’m right.

        • Bill Schmid

          Hillary is a a Republican Democratic. She is a far stretch from being a Feminist, unless you feel her handeling of a 1974 rape case we’re she accusses a 12-year-old child at being at fault. An laughs about it.
          She had a poor showing as the First Lady, filled with nothing but bully and poor healthcare policy failure. She sold New York for 20 Billion dollars for her support on the Irag war, which is still getting our service men snd women killed. Libya was a disaster, the worst mistake Pres. Obama said he made. She got four good men killed in Benqhazi. And lied to the families. The selling of 156 billion dollars in arms sales to 20 different nations.She is know courting and taking Bush Wall Street Republican money. Hillary has no plans to deal with wall street or the big banks.
          These are just a few items you’ll find on her.

        • Timothy Dannenhoffer

          You’re a dupe. And I am saying that as a progressive, not a Fox News watcher.

    • Gretchen Pemberton Brena

      I wish you’d consider voting for Bernie in the Primary. You can believe everything he says.

    • SeparationOfCorp&State

      She’s bought and paid for and is a Republican in Democrat’s clothing.

      • Daniel Clemens

        She is no Republican!

    • Timothy Dannenhoffer

      Dumb or uninformed?

  • Calvin the Man

    Vote Republican or else CA will soon end up like Puerto Rico. Free only lasts until someone else’s money runs out.

    • Gretchen Pemberton Brena

      I live in California. We have some of the lowest property taxes in the country and no state sales tax. What are you complaining about?? Vote for Bernie!!

      • Daniel Clemens

        You obviously do not own a business or understand the heavy taxation

    • Martin Kilgariff

      Repeating an oft touted attack point don’t make it true.

      Nothing is free, everything has to be paid for, but when you give the richest 1% massive tax breaks you’re making it impossible to have a fair society. It terms of disposable income the rich have been treated far too well for far too long. It’s time the 99% were given a fair crack at the whip

  • Gretchen Pemberton Brena

    I’ve been working hard for Bernie since he announced he was running. He has inspired such enthusiasm and excitement among people of all age groups! I hope he’s our candidate to run against Trump. I don’t think Hillary can beat him.
    #Bernie2016 #FeelTheBern #WeNEEDBernie #StillBernie

    • tzager

      Thanx for your devotion Brena!!! I’m canvassing for Bernie in the Bay Area. Unprecedented enthusiasm and energy here too.

      Bernie is going to win big the Golden State!

      Try to persuade GOPers or Republican-leaning indies to register Dem or unaffiliated to vote for Bernie! Their race has been decided after all and they all seem to hate Hillary!

      CA is the biggest prize of them all and ends up to be the game changer after long long time.

      My state will seal the deal 4 Bernie and that’s going to be a major upset for the corrupt party apparatus!


  • Darrell benz

    The ACA never addressed the rising costs of healthcare , the health insurance industry and the pharmaceuticals are what needs to be addressed all the ACA did was to give the health insurance and big pharma access to more people and didn’t address the greed , health insurance should be abolished and the pharmaceuticals should be scrutinized , why are we paying more per capita than any other industrialized country , the answer is quite simple greed and our establishment politicians like Hillary taking campaign funding from the pharmaceuticals and healthcare and insurance industries . If you can’t see this you would have to be blind , Hillary can deny all she wants that money doesn’t buy influence well the healthcare industry is a good example of her lies , people you listen to her bullet points well pull the curtain back and quit being so stupid and naive , she takes more money from special interests groups than anyone and there not giving her millions of campaign funding because they like her , why do think she doesn’t release those transcripts of her wall street speeches are you that stupid that you can’t figure out something that is so obvious , Hillary is playing you as fools and that is so sad to see my fellow Americans getting screwed by a shrewd and corrupt woman .

  • alwaysthink

    If Latino registration is way up then Bernie has a big problem. He’s had many bad votes on Immigration Reform including his No vote in 2007. He’s voted in support of the Minutemen Militia on the Border and he appeared with Lou Dobbs who was praising him for his Immigration votes.

    • Alice

      Latinos who really check Bernie out seem to support him over Hillary, and are active in their support.

    • Joe

      What an awful talking point. That minutemen point is such bull shit its pathetic that she even brought something like that up. He explained his no vote very well, and many immigration groups agreed with what his position was.

      You can’t take small things from massive bills then say one thing about them and leave out others,

      For instance, if he hadn’t voted for the crime bill, you’d be saying he supports domestic abuse.

    • Martin Kilgariff

      Sanders has so few real flaws that the Clinton “Rove” machine has been forced to twist the truth to contrive the few which have surfaced – and this a prime example. Utter rubbish.

    • Tempertee

      Did you see the protest in LA? The latino community sees her as a war monger who help destabilize Honduras, and eventually topple a government. She’s a late comer to the immigration battle, and her policies so far are ambiguous strings of rhetoric. I doubt her message, or lack thereof, will resonate with young progressive latinos who have done their research.

    • Gretchen Pemberton Brena

      I am starting to think “alwaysthink” is simply a Hillary troll and not worth the time …

  • BernieOrBust

    Bernie has a great shot at winning our state. Chicano voters like me, are very enthusiastic about Bernie, and with this data showing a surge in democratic registrations, I believe we may even be able to win by 10-20 points.

    • Timothy Dannenhoffer




  • John Goodman

    I’ve been working to convince Trump, Cruz, and Kasich supporters to vote for Bernie Sanders in the New Mexico primary. The reason is because Trump is already the nominee so there is no strategic reason to vote for him and Cruz and Kasich dropped out and both of their supporters are anti-Trump and anti-Clinton

    New Mexico primary is on June 7th but deadline to register as democrat is May 10th.

    Also go through the list of Independent voter registration deadlines for upcoming states and convince conservatives there to vote for Bernie!

    • Timothy Dannenhoffer

      If you know anyone in California tell them to do the same – delegate rich New Jersey and California will determine if Bernie overtakes Hillary or not.

  • Daniel Clemens

    Supporting ILLEGAL Immigration does not help legal citizens! It cuts wages, adds a heavy burden to the already strained infrastructure, hurts students in the classroom, the list goes on and on…

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