As primary showdown looms, an electorate in flux

With the June primary election approaching, the California electorate appears engaged in the political process but is increasingly disenchanted with both major political parties.

The voter-registration figures from the secretary of state’s office contain little comfort for Democrats and even less for Republicans: Democratic registration remains stalled at 43.5 percent, where it has been stuck for the past four years, while Republicans have dropped to 30.3 percent, reflecting a steady and inexorable slide over the past 16 years.

Both parties have lost registrants – in 1996, Democrats approached nearly half the electorate and Republicans stood at nearly 37 percent. But as the numbers of both wither, Democrats have topped the GOP by 10 percent or more since the 1990s with the exception of 2004.

That edge is reflected in the state Legislature, where Democrats enjoy commanding majorities.

Increasingly, the voters are leaving the Democrats and Republicans in droves and are declining to state a party preference. And they are not going to smaller, lesser known parties.

Of California’s 23.7 million people who are eligible to vote, about 17 million, or 71.9 percent, actually have registered – the highest level since the 1996 presidential election when Bill Clinton won a second term.

Of those voters who have registered, 21.3 percent – better than one in five – declined to align themselves with a political party. The unprecedented statewide level of decline-to-state voters has nearly doubled over the past 15 years.

Political observers differ on the ultimate impact of independent or decline-to-state voters, but many strategists see them as occupying a more moderate ground than party registrants, which means the DTS voters will be a prime target as “top two” primaries are held across the state in June. In a top two primary election, the two candidates who receive the most votes square off against each other in the November general election. 

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