Memo|Politics/Elections   6 Minute Read

Voter Registration Update: Super Tuesday Edition

Published March 5, 2012

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In November 2011, we released a report showing that in the years since President Obama’s election, Independent enrollment grew in battleground states while Democratic and, to a lesser extent, Republican enrollment declined. This is the second of our periodic updates of voter enrollment in presidential battleground states, and we offer three findings:

  1. Independent enrollment continues its 3 ½ year climb.
  2. Since January 1, 2012, Republicans have begun to reverse their enrollment slide, likely because of the heated primary contests in several states, but they still show an overall decrease in voters since 2008.
  3. Despite slightly higher voter enrollment in recent months, Republican turnout is down across the primaries that have occurred thus far, casting doubt on claims of high Republican enthusiasm for 2012.

1) Independent Enrollment Continues Post-Obama Election Climb

Since 2008, registration for both parties in presidential battleground states is down, while Independent registration is on the rise. Even the recent uptick in Republican registration—likely a byproduct of the competitive GOP nominating process—is not enough to reverse the long-term trend.

Overall, since the historic 2008 election:

  • Democratic registration is down 842,376, or 5.5%; and,
  • Republican registration is down 229,112, or 1.9%; and,
  • Independent registration is up 345,811, or 4.6%.

In just the first two months of 2012, Democratic voter registration is down while Independent and, especially, Republican registration is up in the 8 battleground states with partisan voter registration.*

Of the 12 battleground states—Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin—only 8 keep data on voter registration by party—all but Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Since January 1, 2012 in these key states:

  • Democratic registration is down 8,179, and now is at 14,522,281; and,
  • Republican registration is up 105,496, and now is at 11,933,275; and,
  • Independent registration is up 25,154, and now is at 7,854,771.
Partisan Voter Registration Changes in 8 Battleground States1

Partisan Voter Registration Changes in 8 Battleground States

While it is not surprising that Republican registration outpaced that of Democrats so far in the primary season, it is notable that Independent registration still hugely outpaces Republican registration since 2008, and any GOP enthusiasm from the primary contest has not netted an increase in Republican voters.

2) Republicans Made Recent Modest Gains in Some Battlegrounds

Registration changes are mixed across the states for the early part of 2012. Registration is up for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents in Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, and North Carolina. But Independents made the most gains in Colorado, New Mexico, and North Carolina, in the latter state registering 10,000 more than Republicans. Democratic registration is down and Republican registration is up in Iowa, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, with Republicans even outstripping Independents where they made gains. Only in New Hampshire did Independent registration fall while the parties increased. However, this is likely because Independent voters had to declare a party if they voted in the 2012 primary. Eighty percent of New Hampshire Independents who voted in the primary in January immediately switched back.2

Change in Partisan Registration in 8 Battleground States in 20123Change in Partisan Registration in 8 Battleground States in 2012

Since 2008, the picture is even bleaker. In 6 of the 8 battlegrounds—all except Iowa and New Hampshire—Independent registration increased relative to the parties, and in 5—all but Iowa, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania—Independent registration increased in raw numbers. That means since the last Presidential election, Democratic registration has fallen everywhere except Colorado, and Republicans have gained only in Colorado and Iowa. In Colorado, Iowa, and New Hampshire, Independents are now a plurality of registered voters.

Total Change in Partisan Registration in 8 Battleground States Since 2008 Total Change in Partisan Registration in 8 Battleground States Since 2008

3) Republican Fervor Not Translating into GOP Primary Votes

According to a recent Gallup survey, Republicans are more enthusiastic than Democrats about the 2012 election by 8 points.4 Yet that common wisdom has not been borne out in primary turnout, where the number of voters participating in the GOP nominating contests has actually been thinner than past years. Overall in the primary process, 410,124 fewer people participated in the 11 contests of 2012 as compared to turnout in the same 11 states in 2008. In 2008 in these states, 4,860,960 people voted as compared to 4,450,836 this year.5

Digging further into the exit poll data, we find that participation among Republicans is down even further than meets the eye when compared to 2008. Where exit poll information is available, turnout of Republican voters in the nominating process is down 4.7%, from 3,175,380 in 2008 to 3,026,294 in 2012. By contrast, Independent participation in the primary contests is up 49.7%, from 823,196 in 2008 to 1,232,667 this year.6 State-level data is revealing here:

  • In Iowa, Republicans made up 75% of the GOP caucus attendees this year, but in 2008 they were 86%. While the GOP caucus turnout was up about 3,000 from 2008, 11,000 fewer Republicans caucused this year. Any caucus turnout surge in Iowa was from Independents.
  • In New Hampshire, 47% of the GOP primary participants were Independents this year as opposed to only 37% in 2008.
  • In Michigan, Independents went from 25% of GOP primary voters in 2008 to 31% this year, while Republicans fell from 68% in 2008 to 60% now. That translated into 92,551 more Independents voting in the 2012 GOP primary than in 2008. Republican participation also increased by 8,820 and Democratic participation by 29,110.

In short, it is Independents, not Republicans, who are running to the polls. Who knew Republicans would long for the heady days of McCain enthusiasm?

Conclusion

It is clear from the trends in voter registration data since 2008 that Independents are surging in advance of the 2012 election and will play a larger role in determining the outcome than in any election in recent memory. While Republican registration has increased in recent months due to the contested primary, the party’s overall numbers continue to be anemic and do not demonstrate an increase in enthusiasm since 2008—in fact, they show a cumulative decrease in the number of registered Republicans in the battleground states. Meanwhile, Democrats continue to lose ground to Independents in voter registration. Together, the numbers illustrate that wooing these Independent voters will be all the more imperative in 2012.

Appendix

Voter registration data is available from states’ Election/Secretary of State websites. The webpages where voter registration data is housed for the years used in this report are listed in the table below. Each website was accessed on March 1, 2012. Data is current through the following dates:

  • Colorado: February 1, 2012 (our last report had data through January 1, 2012)
  • Florida: January 3, 2012 (our last report had data through November 1, 2011)
  • Iowa: March 1, 2012 (our last report had data through January 1, 2012)
  • Nevada: January 1, 2012 (our last report had data through November 1, 2011)
  • New Hampshire: January 10, 2012 (our last report had data through December 14, 2011)
  • New Mexico: March 2, 2012 (our last report had data through December 28, 2011)
  • North Carolina: February 25, 2012 (our last report had data through December 31, 2012)
  • Pennsylvania: February 27, 2012 (our last report had data through January 2, 2012)

Voter Registration Data

Colorado

Florida

Iowa

Nevada

New Hampshire

New Mexico7

North Carolina

Pennsylvania

  1. Current registration includes the first 2 months of 2012 with some caveats. Data for Colorado is updated through February 1, 2012 as more recent information was not available. Florida had previously released data in November, so the change is from November 2011 to January 3, 2012, the last available update. In Nevada there was a registration update in November 2011 and another one on January 1, 2012, so that period is covered. New Hampshire updated its lists on December 14, 2011 and then again after the primary, on January 10, 2012, which is reflected in the chart.

  2. “Presidential Primary Election,” New Hampshire Office of the Secretary of State, January 10, 2012, Accessed March 2, 2012. Available at: http://www.sos.nh.gov/presprim2012/PPNamesSummary.htm.

  3. See footnote 1. For each state these reflect changes from the final 2011 report through the most current 2012 report.

  4. Lydia Saad, “GOP Slightly Ahead in Voting Enthusiasm,” Gallup, March 1, 2012. Accessed March 1, 2012. Available at: http://www.gallup.com/poll/153038/GOP-Slightly-Ahead-Voting-Enthusiasm.aspx?utm_source=tagrss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syndication.

  5. Voter turnout during the GOP nominating process was calculated based on data provided by CNN for 2008 and 2012. “Election Center 2008: Primaries and Caucuses,” CNN. Accessed March 2, 2012. Available at: http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2008/primaries/; See also “Election Center: America’s Choice 2012: Primaries and Caucuses,” CNN. Accessed March 2, 2012. Available at: http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2012/primaries.html.

  6. These calculations are based on comparing the same states—Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Nevada, Arizona, and Michigan—from 2008 and 2012. Using exit/entrance polls to estimate party identification, we multiplied the total votes cast by the proportion of Republicans and Independents to figure out how many of each group voted in both years’ elections. Missouri is the only contest thus far for which exit poll data is available from the 2008 GOP primaries but not 2012; as such, we excluded Missouri from the analysis. “Election Center 2008: Primaries and Caucuses”; “Election Center: America’s Choice 2012.”

  7. New Mexico’s Elections Division provided Third Way with voter registration data by party and jurisdiction through March 2, 2012. The last update on their website had data through January 31, 2011, which was used in our first report, “Independents Day 2012.”

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