Waning Influence of State Political Parties?

Every four years, the Secretary of State’s Office releases data reflecting voter registration trends 60 days prior to the November general election. The most recent of these reports shows that the number of voters who register with no party preference continues to trend upwards.

Since the last 60-day report in September of 2010, the percentage of eligible voters who register is nearly unchanged – 72.7% versus 72.2%. However, in that same time period, the number of individuals registering with a party preference has decreased from 79.1% to 76.1% while the number of voters registering without a party preference has increased from 20.2% to 23.1%. Democrat registration has fallen to 43.4% of all registered voters in 2014 compared to 44.3% in 2010. While Democrat affiliation has held relatively flat, Republican registration continued to trend downward, with just 28.2% of the state’s voters expressing a preference for the GOP compared to 30.9% in 2010. These decreases in major party registration came despite Republican and Democrat efforts to recruit new voters. Voters affiliated with other parties was the only segment to see slight growth.

Potential Contributing Factors to Decreasing Party Affiliation

Open Primary System. Party affiliation may play less of a role in candidate selection and voter registration trends than ever before due to California’s 2010 adoption of an open primary (top-two) system. Historically, at the primary election, selection of candidates running for voter-elected offices has been restricted by party affiliation. In the voter-approved, top-two primary system, all candidates running for partisan office appear on a single ballot and all eligible voters – regardless of party affiliation – can cast their ballot for any candidate, with the top two vote earners advancing to the general election ballot. This means that Republicans can vote for Democrats, Democrats for Republicans, and third party registrants and persons declaring no party preference have a say in the primary process.

Independent Voters. With independent voters allowed access to candidate selection in the primary and independent candidates appearing alongside major party candidates on statewide ballots, voters may have less motivation to align with a party they find inadequately represents their views. An increasing number of individuals looking for middle ground appear to be shunning party politics and shifting toward voting as free agents.

Issue Based Voting. We know that some voters are more likely to cast a ballot for particular candidates based on party affiliation. Conversely, other voters select candidates based on their shared or disparate beliefs on particular issues, regardless of the candidates’ party preference. To the extent more voters are practicing “issue-based” voting, the frequency with which voters identify with a particular political party could be decreasing.

Posted by:

Cory M. Salzillo

Legislative Representative/Business Consultant

Warner & Pank, LLC

Cory M. Salzillo - california voter registration