February 22, 2016
Californians may be more disenchanted with political party labels than at any time in modern history, as new voter registration data show another shift away from party affiliation coming at the same time as a presidential race that exposes deep partisan divides nationwide.
The report issued by Secretary of State Alex Padilla on Monday finds that 24% of California voters now officially have “no party preference,” the term used by elections officials to describe independents. That’s up almost three percentage points since the last presidential election in 2012.
While the migration away from Californians picking formal party labels has been evident for most of the past decade, the trend has picked up speed since 2008.
“The Democratic share of registrants has been flat, the independent share has been climbing fast, and the Republican share has been sinking just as fast,” said Eric McGhee, an elections researcher at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.
The newly released report shows the gap between Democratic and Republican voter registration is now more than 15 points. Republicans represent less than 28% of the state’s electorate, a drop of almost three points since the start of the 2012 election cycle.
Democrats, while also shrinking in overall share, retain their plurality of voters at 43% of registration.
The shift to a less centralized political landscape in California is likely to accelerate, said McGhee, given the generational differences between younger and older voters.
“New, young registrants are heavily independent and to a lesser extent Democratic, while elderly people are much more likely to be Republican,” he said. “Since people tend to stick with their party registration even if their politics change, this means we should expect these registration trends to continue.”
While elections officials sample the size and contours of the electorate annually, the trend away from political parties is most easily seen in the context of previous presidential election years.
In the January 2008 report, almost one in five California voters were unaffiliated with a political party. In the last open presidential election, 2004, only 16% of voters were counted in the category of independent.
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