Analysis

CA120: Voter registration: GOP death rattle or a missed opportunity for Dems?

Stock vector illustration, via Shutterstock.

With the release of official voter registration numbers this week, the focus has been on the continued decline in Republican registration and growth in Independent voters.  The stories, for the most part, treat these two factors as directly related, like two ends of a see-saw.  As Republicans lose ground, independents grow and common wisdom within California’s political class jumps to the causal link.

However, looking closer at the data, there are two significant factors that should temper this quick rush to judgement.

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First, as was pointed out by Republican consultant Mike Madrid this week, the drop in voter registration to 24% of the electorate actually understates the strength of the Grand Old Party in California. The lower turnout from Democratic bases and independents, particularly in low-turnout elections, means that Republicans regularly over-perform their registration.

As an example, in the 2014 General Election, Republicans accounted for 35% of total turnout. In the 2016 Primary Election, it is expected that Republicans will account for 36% of voters. But with conservative-leaning Independents, 46% of the votes in a contest like the U.S.Senate race will be on the Republican side of the statewide ticket.

Secondly, looking closer at registration by city and by ethnicity we can see that this growth in NPP voters — no-party-preference voters, also known as independents or decline-to-state voters — is coming on strongly in minority voter communities and, like all new registration, reflects predominantly younger voters.

If our state voter file is seeing an influx of millennials and minorities, two bases of the Democratic Party, then anything other than a swelling of their registration numbers could be seen as losing ground.

As the following chart shows, as a city gets more heavily Latino or Asian in its new registrants (left is low minority, right is high minority) the rate of non-patisan registration rises significantly, while Democratic registration is flat-lined and Republicans are losing ground.

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There are currently five cities with plurality NPP population, up from just two at the time of the 2012 General Election.  And, notably, these are some very high Asian population cities.  Saratoga and Diamond Bar aren’t there yet, but they are likely the next cities to hit this mark.

DEM REP NPP Asian
CUPERTINO 37% 19% 41% 33%
WALNUT 32% 26% 36% 48%
ARCADIA 28% 31% 36% 44%
TEMPLE CITY 34% 26% 35% 43%
IRVINE 31% 31% 32% 24%
SARATOGA 34% 30% 32% 25%
DIAMOND BAR 33% 29% 31% 35%

 

Overall, NPPs are experiencing the greatest growth in rural counties with high Latino population.  And in these counties, the shift away from Democrats and Republicans is roughly equivalent.

COUNTY Latino DEM DEM SHIFT REP REP SHIFT NPP NPP SHIFT
TUOLUMNE 5% 28% -4% 38% -4% 27% 8%
MERCED 36% 40% -2% 32% -1% 22% 5%
YUBA 13% 28% -3% 36% -3% 27% 5%
SAN JOAQUIN 23% 41% -2% 33% -3% 19% 3%
MADERA 28% 32% -2% 41% -3% 20% 3%
DEL NORTE 6% 31% -3% 35% -2% 24% 4%
COLUSA 28% 32% -2% 42% -3% 20% 3%
MONTEREY 33% 49% -2% 23% -1% 23% 3%
GLENN 18% 28% -2% 43% -2% 22% 3%
FRESNO 32% 38% -2% 36% -2% 19% 3%

 

Within cities, all but one of the NPP-growing cities is significantly Latino.  And, here the growth of independents is happening in extremely high Democratic registration areas.  Republican registration is dropping as a percentage, but these Latino and younger voters are the kind of registrants who would have historically been strongly Democratic.

 

Latino DEM Dem Shift REP Rep Shift NPP NPP SHIFT
PERRIS 54% 52% -1% 22% -6% 21% 7%
COACHELLA 90% 63% -9% 16% 4% 18% 6%
MORENO VALLEY 36% 46% -1% 27% -7% 21% 6%
FIREBAUGH 79% 52% -5% 20% -2% 22% 6%
STOCKTON 26% 49% -3% 27% -3% 19% 5%
SONORA 6% 34% -4% 28% -4% 31% 8%
ATWATER 31% 35% -3% 34% -3% 24% 6%
DOS PALOS 43% 42% -1% 32% -3% 19% 5%
GREENFIELD 80% 65% -5% 11% 0% 20% 4%
LIVINGSTON 60% 58% -2% 14% -2% 23% 5%

 

Looking at it another way, the top 10 cities in terms of Latino population all are showing a growth in NPP in a set of cities that are, on average, 60% Democratic to start.

 

CITY Latino DEM Dem Shift REP Rep Shift NPP NPP SHIFT
PARLIER 93% 59% -1% 17% 0% 19% 1%
MENDOTA 92% 63% -4% 14% -1% 18% 4%
CALEXICO 91% 57% -4% 8% -1% 30% 5%
HUNTINGTON PARK 91% 61% -3% 9% -2% 24% 3%
MAYWOOD 91% 60% -2% 9% -1% 26% 2%
COACHELLA 90% 63% -9% 16% 4% 18% 6%
BELL GARDENS 89% 59% -2% 10% -1% 25% 2%
COMMERCE 88% 64% -3% 10% -1% 21% 3%
CUDAHY 88% 60% -1% 10% -1% 25% 3%
SOUTH GATE 87% 61% -1% 11% -1% 23% 2%

 

Looking specifically at 18- to 40-year-old Asians, 53% of them are currently registering Independent, compared to 11% Republican and 36% Democratic.  And the shift has been more dramatic with 18-40 year old Latinos, where historically 50% were registering as Democrats, 38% Independent, and that has flipped.  The new registrants in this younger Latino population are 50% independent and 38% Democratic.

While Democrats are losing an opportunity to register more young and minority voters, Republicans are also seeing their registration wane. For the first time in modern history, there is no Republican majority county.  The highest voter registration county is Modoc at 49%.  In Orange County, once a conservative stronghold, Republican registration has slipped to 40%, and just 22% of new registrants are Republicans, who are in third place behind independents and Democrats.

This trend is set to continue, and could accelerate through the summer as we hit the traditional “presidential surge registrants” – those who sign up to vote in the presidential election, an estimated one million new voters.  And, with this surge, it is reasonable to expect that independent voters will actually surpass Republicans for the first time.

So, the narrative that Republican registration is in decline, while independent registration is skyrocketing, is true.  But while it might be easy to presume that these new independent voters are coming out of the back pockets of the Republican Party, that actually does not appear to be the case.

Ed’s Note: Paul Mitchell, a regular contributor to Capitol Weekly, is vice president of Political Data Inc., and owner of Redistricting Partners, a political strategy and research company. Both firms provide information and strategy to Democratic, as well as Republican and independent candidates. 

 


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