Memo|Politics/Elections   4 Minute Read

Flight to the Center: Voter Registration 6 Months Out

Published May 7, 2012

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Takeaways

This is the third of our periodic updates of voter enrollment in presidential battleground states and we offer 3 findings:

  1. Independent enrollment continues to outpace Democratic and, to a lesser extent, Republican registration.
  2. Independents are at historic levels around the country and in the battlegrounds.
  3. Independent voting is more volatile than in past elections.

The general election is in 6 months. And if voter registration data is any indicator, the American public isn’t sold on either party. Since 2008, Democratic registration has declined substantially. The GOP primary has slowed Republican losses. But the real story is with Independents, whose ranks have swelled by nearly half a million voters in the 8 presidential battleground states for which party registration data is available.*

The 8 presidential battleground states with partisan registration are Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. The other 4 presidential battlegrounds—Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin—do not keep registration statistics by party identification.

Since 2008, Independent registration in these 8 battlegrounds has increased by 435,451, while Democratic registration has decreased by 840,749, and Republican registration has decreased by 156,970.* Independents gained ground in absolute numbers in 5 states and gained relative to Democrats in all 8 states.

See Appendix A for all registration data sources.

Change in Voter Registration in 8 Battleground States Since 2008

Change in Voter Registration in 8 Battleground States Since 2008

Independent Registration Outstrips Parties in Battlegrounds

Of the 12 presidential battleground states that will likely determine the November election, 8 keep voter registration statistics by party. Since 2008 in the 8 presidential battleground states with partisan voter registration—Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania—Independent voter registration has increased while partisan registration is down.

In these 8 battlegrounds since 2008:

  • The number of Democrats has decreased by 840,749, or 5.5%, and now stands at 14,523,908;
  • The number of Republicans has decreased by 156,970, or 1.3%, and now stands at 12,005,417; and,
  • The number of Independents has increased by 435,451, or 5.8%, and now stands at 7,944,411.

Democratic registration has fared worse than Republican registration in all 8 states. Independent registration since 2008 has increased in absolute terms (not relative to the parties) in 5 states. And Independents are a plurality of voters in 3 states—Colorado, Iowa, and New Hampshire.

Percent Changes in Partisan Voter Registration in 8 Battleground States, 2008 to 2012
Percent Changes in Partisan Voter Registration in 8 Battleground States, 2008 to 2012
Actual Changes in Partisan Voter Registration in 8 Battleground States, 2008 to 2012

Actual Changes in Partisan Voter Registration in 8 Battleground States, 2008 to 2012

Independents Reach Record Levels

According to Gallup, a record high 40% of Americans now identify as an Independent, surpassing both the Democratic and Republican parties in voter identification nationally.* In the 8 presidential battleground states, Independent registration has increased substantially since 1996, by a total of 4,153,287, or about 110%. And, in Florida, New Mexico, and North Carolina, the number of Independents has more than doubled.

Jeffrey M. Jones, “Record-High 40% of Americans Identify as Independents in ’11,” Gallup, Published January 9, 2012, Accessed May 2, 2012. Available at: http://www.gallup.com/poll/151943/record-high-americans-identify-independents.aspx.

Change in Registered Independent Voters, 1996 to 2012

Change in Registered Independent Voters, 1996 to 2012

Independents More Volatile In Recent Elections

Historically, Independents have split their vote fairly evenly between the two parties. The chart below illustrates that neither the Democratic nor Republican parties scored large victories on the Congressional Ballot since 1996.* But since 2006, Independents have become much more volatile. In 2006, Independents handed the House to Democrats by an 18 point margin. In 2010, Republicans won back the majority, with a 19 point lead among Independents. Over time, these voters have become more volatile, while their share of the electorate continues to climb.

See Appendix B for exit poll sources.

Independent Voting, National House Ballot, Exit Polls

Independent Voting, National House Ballot, Exit Polls

Conclusion

Since the historic 2008 election, the electorate in the 8 presidential battleground states has changed substantially. The ranks of Independents have swelled by nearly half a million. By contrast, Democratic registration is down 840,749. While Republican registration had declined in recent years, the competitive and drawn-out primary stemmed the tide, with GOP registration down only 156,970. Increasingly, Independents are a more volatile voting bloc, and they have expanded nationally and in the battlegrounds since 1996. To win in November, both campaigns will need to woo these voters.

Appendix A

Voter registration data is available from states’ Election/Secretary of State websites. The exact webpages where voter registration data is housed for the 3 years used in this report—1996, 2008, and 2012—are listed in the table below. All of the data for 1996 and 2008 were final tabulations after the November elections. The websites were checked and verified on May 2, 2012. The data for 2012 is current through the most recently released reports:

Colorado: May 1, 2012 New Hampshire: January 10, 2012

Florida: March 1, 2012 New Mexico: April 18, 2012

Iowa: May 1, 2012 North Carolina: April 28, 2012

Nevada: May 2, 2012 Pennsylvania: April 30, 2012

Voter Registration Data Sources

Voter Registration Data Sources

Appendix B

Data for Independent voting on the House National Ballot was taken from publicly released exit polls. Websites were accessed on May 2, 2012.

Exit Poll Data Sources

Exit Poll Data Sources

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