More voters avoid party labels

A California voter casts a ballot. (Photo: Vepar5)

As California voters head to the polls, state elections officials report a continued surge in the percentage of registered voters with no party preference and further erosion in the percentages of voters registered with the Republican and Democratic parties.

While a majority of California voters remain registered with either of the two major political parties, the percentage of voters with no party preference, or NPP, has steadily risen since the 1990s, according to a registration report released May 30 by the secretary of state.

“There’s really no evidence that the top two is what made turnout low,” McGhee said. “What drives turnout is top-of-the-ticket races and initiatives.”

NPP voters made up only 14.8 percent of registered voters a little more than a decade ago, but that figure has steadily risen to 21.2 percent today. Democrats saw a percentage point decline in their share of registered voters, down to 43.4 percent, but they still dwarfed the Republican Party, which made up 28.4 percent of registered voters approaching tomorrow’s elections.

The percentage of registered Republican voters in California has fallen more steeply than the percentage of registered Democrats — as recently as 2006, Republicans made 34.4  percent of California’s registered voters.

Total voter registration rose since 2010 to 73.3 percent — nearly 18 million Californians — but voter turnout for June primaries is typically much less than general elections. In the 2010 primary elections, only a third of registered voters turned in ballots. Even in the 2012 primaries, a presidential election year that saw California’s first use of the top-two primary system, voter turnout was a paltry 31 percent.

Eric McGhee, a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, disputed the notion that the top-two primary system reduced turnout in 2012, suggesting that an unexciting presidential election and a relative dearth of controversial initiatives drove down voter interest instead.

“There’s really no evidence that the top two is what made turnout low,” McGhee said. “What drives turnout is top-of-the-ticket races and initiatives.”

The stars may have aligned for turnout in tomorrow’s elections to be similarly underwhelming, according to McGhee.

“(In this cycle) the gubernatorial race is just not that exciting,” McGhee said. “There’s no Senate contest. There’s no presidential race. There are also no citizen initiatives. It’s an open question as to whether the initiatives on this ballot are exciting enough to draw voters, and I think the general consensus is no.”

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