Decline-to-state voters gather strength as major parties ebb

California voters’ independent–minded push to shed party affiliations is accelerating, reflecting over a fifth of the electorate even as the state remains solidly dominated by Democrats.

Since 1990, when Democratic registration dropped below 50 percent for the first time in a half century, the overwhelming growth – perhaps 90 percent – has been outside the two major parties.

The secretary of state’s latest report of registration shows better than seven out of every 10 of California’s 23.6 million eligible voters have registered. Of those, 21.2 percent declined to state a party preference, while Democrats accounted for 43.6 percent, Republicans 30.4 percent and the remainder, less than 5 percent, noted affiliations with minor parties.

Of the 23.6 million eligible voters, 17 million, or 72 percent, have registered — greater in raw numbers but lower in percentage than in 1995, when 74.7 percent registered.

Since 1995, voters who decline to state a party preference has more than doubled, from 10.5 percent to the current 21.2 percent. By one estimate, reflected in a 2006 report by PPIC and New America Foundation, the shift in registration since the 1990s could mean that independent voters will outnumber party-linked voters by 2025.

California’s huge electorate reflects the diversity and complexity of the state.

Five minor parties have qualified for the statewide ballot – American Independent, Americans Elect, Green, Libertarian and Peace and Freedom – and 21 mostly obscure groups tried but failed to qualify. They included the Humane Party, the Middle Class Party, the California Moderate Party and the Dharma Party. The Reform Party garnered the most registrants of the obscure groups, 20,722 voters.

To qualify for the ballot, a new political party requires that 103,004 registered voters, or 1 percent of the total ballots cast in the last gubernatorial election.

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