CA120: The voter registration surge

A California ballot box. (Photo illustration, Hafakot, via Shutterstock)

Heading into the June 7 election, candidates and political observers are witnessing a barnstorming Democratic presidential primary contest and a Republican race that is resolved, but with unknown impacts.

With this comes a lot of questions about the changing electorate and how the current state of the presidential contests will impact turnout and the composition of voters in down-ballot races.

The big news is voter registration.

It was expected that California would see a surge of registration prior to November, not June.  For each of the two past presidential cycles we had seen two million or more new and re-registrations in the lead-up to the general elections, with moderate growth for the primaries.CA Logo

But the growth in the past five months has been record-breaking.  With some counties still completing their 15-day close of registration, we have surpassed all prior registration records with more than 2.3 million voters registering for the first time or updating their registration.

This is by far the largest number of pre-primary registrations the state, or country, has ever seen.  It breaks every trend we described in our first story on the basics of the voter file.  And this primary voter surge marks the first time since 1980, when Reagan was a Republican presidential candidate, that the voter file actually grew in the period from the prior gubernatorial general election to the presidential primary.

This growth comes despite some counties reporting high rates of  purging deadwood from the files, and making “inactive” large numbers of voters who have not participated in past elections.graf 1


Strikingly, Latino registration in this primary was higher in raw numbers than Latino registration before either of the past two presidential generals, and 50% higher than the past two primary elections combined.

This registration saw massive spikes driven by both enthusiasm and organized efforts by groups ranging from Tom Steyer’s Next Gen Climate Change to Republican candidate Donald Trump’s robocall, to a single-day Facebook button that the Secretary of State’s office credits with a 200,00 voter surge over 48 hours.

A chart of the weekly registration shows the massive surge in detail.  Amazingly, the final week of registration exceed a half-million voters.  For scale, this last week of registration was larger than the first 8.5 months of 2015.graf 2

The same chart, but showing the Partisan breakdown by week, compared to 2012, gives a sense of how massive this surge was, particularly for Democrats who accounted for more than 300,000 registrations in the last week alone.graf 3


Compared with 2012 pre-primary registration by subgroup, this latest registration either tripled or quadrupled the rate of signups.

TOTAL Up 181%
LATINO Up 192%
AGE 18-24 Up 115%
AGE 25-30 Up 246%
Comparing 2012 and 2016 registration from Jan 1 – May 23.

One trend that was much touted, and which would have developed dramatically had the Republican primary race carried on through California, was the potential for party switching.  A prior article looked at this issue through the lens of voters who could be switching parties to game the election.

While this never seemed to be a real trend, as the following graphic shows, the number of independent voters who were re-registering as Democratic and Republican began spiking in March.

This was driven by natural re-registrations, many of whom might have been independent, but had over time found more in common with one of the two political parties.  But there were also some significant partisan pushes, most notably a series of Donald Trump robocalls and Facebook ads from Sacramento political consultant Tim Clark targeting independents.

This Republican push seemed to have the intended impact, but when Trump locked the party nomination, the rate of registrations nearly halted while Democratic switching continued unabated. graf 5

The totals for the last three months of the registration period show few voters converting away from the political parties, and more conversions to Democratic than Republican, a gap almost entirely borne out after Trump became the sole remaining candidate.

Party Conversions March – May
DEM TO REP  41,977
DEM TO OTHER  29,873
REP TO DEM  39,764
REP TO OTHER  25,708
OTHER TO DEM  109,055
OTHER TO REP  77,186


Totals by Party
To NPP/OTHER  55,581
To Republican  119,163
To Democrat  148,819

While voter registration is the big pre-election data story of this campaign cycle, the second shoe to drop is turnout.  Thus far, voter turnout has been high and partisan, but seemingly not reflective of the youthful and strongly Latino pool of new and re-registered voters.

Our tracking of absentee votes, with a comparison to the absentee voting rates of the 2104 primary and general, shows a higher overall turnout than either 2014 election, but much of the same composition

While the majority of new registrants were under 35 years old, these voters only account for 10% of the votes that have been cast so far this election cycle.  Latinos who are nearly one-in-four voters in California, are only one-in-eight of who have returned a ballot.  Nearly 70% of the votes cast so far have come from voters over 55 years old.

As could be expected for a primary election with extremely strong partisan themes, the electorate to date has lacked participation by Independent voters.  Some of this could be attributable to the well-documented issues with these voters getting partisan presidential ballots, but the larger fact is that nonpartisan voters always have lower performance in primaries and local elections – instead turning out only for General Elections in the fall.

In the initial returns we also see a Democratic leaning to these early voters.  Statewide, Democrats are turning out at a 15-point advantage, more than double the 7-point advantage in the 2014 primary.

It is generally expected that higher-performing Republican voters will narrow the registration gap in primaries, boosting their candidates into one of the top-two spots in legislative, congressional and even statewide elections. However, with this widening gap in early voter turnout, many are speculating that the varying interest in the Democratic and Republican primaries might have down-ticket impacts on the US Senate race or other contests where a Republican might not make the November runoff.

This tracker will be updated daily as we head into the Tuesday election, but it would take a massive turnout by young and Latino voters for the final election results to be reflective of this seemingly enthusiastic and motivated election surge.

Ed’s Note: Paul Mitchell is the creator of Capitol Weekly’s CA120 column, which explores 2016 election issues in California. He is vice president of Political Data Inc., and owner of Redistricting Partners, a bipartisan political strategy and research company.  Intern Alan Nigel Yan of UC Berkeley’s Political Science Department assisted with this article. Yan is a Fellow in the Cal-in-Sacramento program. 


  • Tids1960

    I am trying to understand the Bernie Sanders voters…

    The majority of you who follow him for the free college, I just don’t think you’ve thought that out. Anything the government pays out is never free. Once you get that college glorified Ge.d you are going to be in the career social bracket that the government will be targeting to pay for those people seeking free college. And this is why I feel you haven’t thought this out, these career jobs you will apply for are not here in the United States anymore. All of the corporations have moved most if not all of these jobs that require those glorified Ge.d’s out of the country. And you will already be at a disadvantage becasue those students will have three to five languages and will know more about your country then you do, not to mention theirs. I just think the odds are against you. And even if you do land a career in one of these corporations, You just voted to turn this country into socialist regime to be ran by an authoritarian. Adolf Hitler started off as a socialist regime, which is why Socialism never works. What we have now is cronie capitalism and it’s over taken our government. And to protect their bottom line they have made it almost impossible to own a Mom & Pop business and move all of their business off shore for cheeper labor, Oh, I forgot to mention that earlier.

    Let me recap to you people some history of America. In 1933 FDR was almost overthrown by business elites and fascist wealthy families that lived here in the United States in what was called the “Business Plot” Now, it was never revealed who these people were because of the stature in the “who’s who” in American society. And the names were only whispered among the elites.

    However, one name sticks out of the crowd, a very well known one today…

    Prescott Bush joined the United States Rubber Company of New York City as manager of the foreign division in 1924 and then he became a partner of Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. (an American investment bank and securities firm) which was created in 1931 through a merger of W. A. Harriman & Co. – an investment bank and brokerage firm and Brown Bros. & Co. – An investment bank and trading company.
    [ NOTE : 1931 ] Business Plot happened 1933
    Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. created the Union Banking Corporation with Friedrich “Fritz” Thyssen. Prescott Bush was one of seven corporate directors put in charge of Union Banking Corporation as a front to help Thyssen conceal the bank’s real ownership, Adolf Hitler. Friedrich “Fritz” Thyssen was a multi-billionaire steel businessman. Fritz Thyssen joined the Nazi party in December 1931 and in his autobiography, “I Paid Hitler”, he admitted backing Hitler when the National Socialists were still a radical fringe party. In the 1933 election, in which the Nazis finally won, he contributed some 3,000,000 marks ($1,200,000 USD) toward the Hitler campaign fund. Thyssen grew rich from Hitler’s efforts to re-arm between the two world wars. It has been well documented that Prescott Bush had been a Nazzz supporter.
    The U.S. Government accused Prescott Bush & Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. of “Trading with the Enemy” in 1942, But that did not stop Prescott from giving aid to Adolf Hitler, the bank and other business interests were seized under the Trading With The Enemy Act and held the assets for the duration of WWII. But that didn’t stop Prescott Bush from continuing to give aid to the Nazis. And in 1951 they were given back their company and assets.
    A year later in 1952 Prescott Bush became a US Senator in Connecticut. Let that sink in…
    This is where I have to ask you… How did a Nazz sympathizer become a Senator… His SON GHW Bush became the head of the CIA with no experience and with his fathers background, not to mention President and the first President to mention the “NEW WORLD ORDER ? [ Which is a term out of Hitler’s book Mein Kampf ] I hope you are at this point, asking How did this happen, But more importantly “who” allowed this to happen.
    1948 the Communist party in fear of being eradicated out of the United States hid in the Progressive Party, and even took it over. I bring that up because Bernie Sanders is running as a Socialist Democrat And Hillary Clinton is running as a Progressive Democrat.
    So what does it say to you that the Democratic Party is MORE than comfortable running a Communist and a Socialist as candidates ?
    Who here remembers GW Bush saying Bill Clinton is my brother from a different mother and when asked about Hillary he said “That would make her my sister in law”
    All of these things come full circle right now… America is under another Coup d’état just like the one in 1933… However, what makes this one different is the Governments of many nations are involved… And it’s really not Government it’s elites in or over those governments.
    How is this possible ? ? ? The credential media is owned by Socialist and we have had a totally black out of what governments have been doing. We have seen these elites meet in secret with their hidden secret societies and clubs or cults…such as the Bohemian Grove and Bilderberg group and I’ll even include the CFR and United Nations to that long list of accolades… Which is why you see Newt saying…

    Talking about Trump
    “They don’t like him…”
    When asked why, Gingrich responded, “Well because he’s an outsider, he’s not them, he’s not part of the club, he’s uncontrollable, he hasn’t been through the initiation rites, he didn’t belong to the secret society.” ~ Newt Gingrich ( CFR )

    • VoxPopulus

      Yours is one of the most ill-informed, grasping-at-straws and frankly silly “analyses” I’ve read. I think your biggest problem was stated, by you: right off the top. But I don’t think your breathtaking lack of comprehension is limited merely to “Bernie Sanders voters.” Your greatest inability is to see precisely how democratic socialism operates: and whether you realize it or not, ours already IS a democratic socialist economy. Public roads, public universities (yes – and offering a tuition-free degree/education is simply an extension – and a WISE one – of our already-public university systems,) public schools, the Armed Forces, police, fire, sheriff departments – that only barely SCRATCHES the surface of our public, DEMOCRATIC-SOCIALIST system. The great problem – as you’ve somewhat intimated nearly by accident: is the unfettered ability of the big businesses of this country to take subsidies, pay (in many cases) NO taxes despite their tirades against the chimera of “high corporate taxes” and then to offshore jobs, profits – and their very debt to America. Socialism DOES work and has worked brilliantly well for a great many countries. The really stupid, silly canard of equating Hitler’s despotic TOTALITARIANISM (which is really not all that far removed from that of Stalin, either) with being some sort of cause OR effect of Socialism is simply insipid. NOTHING to do with it. Yes, crony capitalism HAS taken over our government. And that’s the real problem – not some sort of misinterpretation of what socialism really means. Socialism is the solution – and NOT the problem.

      • Tids1960


        “…ours already IS a democratic socialist economy” ~ VoxPopulus
        You are dead wrong… it’s crony Capitalism bordering on Oligarchy
        And it is you Sir, who is ill-informed…
        Before 1913…

        • VoxPopulus

          Rampant ignorance yet again. YES, I absolutely agree with you and decry the crony capitalism which has infected our GOVERNMENT. But you’ve confused the actual ECONOMIC SYSTEM with those who have seized control of our government. And yes – again – I agree with you that those who have (since the 1870s, with only brief respites and roadblocks primarily in the 1890s-1910, and again during the FDR Administration) unfortunately overrun our government ARE crony capitalists, our SYSTEM IS ONE OF A SOCIAL DEMOCRACY. Which is why this election is so critically important. We must stem the continued attempts to further endow those would-be-oligarchs with even more power – with which they CAN and WILL continue to erode our SOCIAL DEMOCRACY. But among those very oligarchs may be found HILLARY CLINTON. Which is why – YES, I’m proudly and vehemently working on behalf of Bernie Sanders. Despite her rhetoric, there’s sadly little light between Trump and Clinton when it comes to the record. And I DO have to say your presumptiveness and lack of alacrity isn’t limited to your inability to truly discern and comprehend the words of others. And that’s brought home with your response’s assumption – what makes you think I’m a “Sir”?

          • Tids1960

            Where has socialism ever worked ?

          • VoxPopulus

            The United States. Circa 1798 to the present. With the establishment of the legal requirement that mariners purchase health insurance. Although technically, prior taxes levied upon the citizenry of the US really were the established roots of our social democratic system. Before attempting to use words like “socialism” you really need to comprehend what you’re attempting to say. And stop confusing “socialism” with the fascist governments of (among others) Hitler. Not the same thing in the least. Again – we have a democratic socialist economy. If you don’t comprehend that, or refuse to accept it, I hope you’ll also refuse to accept Medicare, Social Security – and will get off OUR public roads, stop using OUR public libraries, public police forces, public highways, public fire departments, public schools and universities….and ALL those things which we, as a social compact: PAY FOR COLLECTIVELY.

          • Tids1960
          • VoxPopulus

            And that’s why you’re absolutely not worth any of my continued time. Your ignorance is profound (and by no means in a good way) and your lack of comprehension of this nation, its history and its governance border upon hysteric idiocy. FWIW, the Alien and Sedition Acts marked not only one of the lowest points of our history – but also sealed the fate of the Federalist Party – AND the Adams presidency. There are quite a few books on that specific subject I can recommend to you, but I have the feeling you really don’t care about the discovery of fact, historic record – or much else other than corrupting the truth into your own little twisted sense of comfort. So enjoy continuing to rant all by yourself. You’re not worth one bit more of my time.

          • Tids1960

            Your ignorant indoctrination would have us all believe the Dark Sucker theory is as reverent as “Democratic Socialism”

            You’re a joke in itself…

            For years, it has been believed that electric bulbs emit light, but recent information has proved otherwise. Electric bulbs don’t emit light; they suck dark. Thus, we call these bulbs Dark Suckers.

            The Dark Sucker Theory and the existence of dark suckers prove that dark has mass and is heavier than light. First, the basis of the Dark Sucker Theory is that electric bulbs suck dark. For example, take the Dark Sucker in the room you are in. There is much less dark right next to it than there is elsewhere. The larger the Dark Sucker, greater is its capacity to suck darkness. Dark Suckers in the parking lot have a much greater capacity to suck dark than the ones in this room. So with all things, Dark Suckers don’t last forever. Once they are full of dark, they can no longer suck. This is proven by the dark spot on a full Dark Sucker. You can see and example below of a Dark Sucker in the process of sucking dark on the right and a Dark Sucker fully filled with dark on the left having completed its job of sucking up all the surrounding darkness.

            A candle is a primitive Dark Sucker. A new candle has a white wick. You can see that after the first use, the wick turns black, representing all the dark that has been sucked into it. If you put a pencil next to the wick of an operating candle, it will turn black. This is because it got in the way of the dark flowing into the candle. One of the disadvantages of these primitive Dark Suckers is their limited range.

            There are also portable Dark Suckers. In these, the bulbs can’t handle all the dark by themselves and must be aided by a Dark Storage Unit. When the Dark Storage Unit is full, it must be either emptied or replaced before the portable Dark Sucker can operate again.

            Dark has mass. When dark goes into a Dark Sucker, friction from the mass generates heat. Thus, it is not wise to touch an operating Dark Sucker. Candles present a special problem as the mass must travel into a solid wick instead of through clear glass. This generates an enormous amount of heat and therefore it’s not wise to touch an operating candle. Also, dark is heavier than light. If you were to swim just below the surface of the lake, you would see a lot of light. If you were to slowly swim deeper and deeper, you would notice it getting darker and darker. When you get really deep, you would be in total darkness. This is because the heavier dark sinks to the bottom of the lake and the lighter light floats at the top. This is why it is called light.

            Finally, we must prove that dark is faster than light. If you were to stand in a lit room in front of a closed, dark closet, and slowly opened the closet door, you would see the light slowly enter the closet. But since dark is so fast, you would not be able to see the dark leave the closet. As light would need to push to reach you retinas, it stands to reason that the dark would be pushed out in front of it or it literally would be moving faster than the light itself.

            It should be noted also that Dark Sucker Theory also draws a lot of loons with their own “alternative” theories! There are now a lot of pseudo-scientific ideas that dark is created spontaneously at all points in the universe. It is believed that this “dark creation energy” is behind the dark matter particles which, as predicted by quantum dark sucker theory, are constantly coming into and going out of existence.

            There are many things wrong with this unenlightened theory. The main one being that I didn’t come up with it. For another, it completely ignores the established action of Darkons being pulled from nothing material. Another ridiculous claim is that the universal blackshift is caused by the dark suction towards the center of the universe (earth). Dark gets tired after traveling through the universe for millions of dark years so it begins to slow down the farther it needs to travel, hence an elongated blackshift similar to light’s redshift.

            So remember, the next time you see an electric bulb or a candle, don’t forget that it is a Dark Sucker.

          • Tids1960

            Here’s something you should have learned about 1798…

            July 14 – The Alien and Sedition Acts become United States law, making it a federal crime to write, publish, or utter false or malicious statements about the United States government.

          • Tids1960

            Hey Old Butch…
            It’s scary to think California is full of idiots like you, and in a rock throw away from where I live… I knew you had to be some kind of government employee troll…

          • nimh

            Aside from any description of the U.S. as a social democracy being a pretty hard sell, you don’t seem to realize that democratic socialism is not the same as social-democracy.

          • Tids1960

            these red diaper babies are rabid in these comment section…

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