Memo|Politics/Elections   11 Minute Read

Voters Drift From Both Parties in Off-Year Voter Registration

Published December 12, 2013

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Since 2008, we have seen five very consequential years in politics, where the electoral fortunes of both parties have swung back and forth. Now we find ourselves at a moment with historically low Congressional approval ratings, and with the favorability of both parties at an unprecedented ebb. But despite what some may argue, the two-party system is not likely to change. So how are voters reacting to this political moment?

To answer this question, we looked at voter registration trends over the past five years in every state that keeps this data by party.* Over that time period, there has been an explosion of Independents, and the trend has continued in 2013. Meanwhile, the number of registered voters of both parties has been stagnant (in some cases decreasing) in many states since 2008. And in eight states Independents are a plurality of registered voters. These figures are bolstered by recent polling, in which 46% of Americans now identify as an Independent.1 This memo lays out the data and shows how this trend has affected the electorate in key states.

Partisan voter registration data is available in 27 states and the District of Columbia. The states included in the analysis are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Kansas, Rhode Island, and West Virginia—states that also have partisan voter registration—have been excluded from this analysis since they did not have complete data through 2013.

#1: Independent voter registration has increased since 2012.

After the 2012 election, pundits hailed the new Democratic era, bolstered by President Obama’s four point victory and gains in the Senate. Republicans licked their wounds, conducted an internal audit, and prepared to make-over the party to attract new voters and appeal to the mainstream. But both sides appear to have fallen short. Over the past year:

  • Democratic registration has decreased by 418,388, or 1%, and now stands at 41,103,668;
  • Republican registration has decreased by 320,751, or 1.1%, and now stands at 28,391,584; and,
  • Independent registration has increased by 268,097, or 1.1%, and now stands at 24,676,002.2
Voter Registration Changes 2012–2013

State

Democrats

Republicans

Independents

Alaska

-2,821

-2,881

-6,275

Arizona

11,157

8,853

75,443

California

-34,049

-130,933

-54,088

Colorado

95,356

81,082

233,854

Connecticut

-26,836

-15,853

-30,116

Delaware

2,488

-2,043

2,185

District of Columbia

-7,644

-1,777

-3,774

Florida

-151,240

-96,945

7,735

Iowa

-11,748

-12,525

19,904

Kentucky

3,683

24,166

10,020

Louisiana

-43,559

-7,378

2,768

Maine

-4,287

-4,269

-2,051

Maryland

-7,165

-9,522

27,506

Massachusetts

-28,457

-12,633

-38,974

Nevada

3,774

-3,077

4,408

New Hampshire

-10,399

-8,327

-9,584

New Jersey

38,114

8,131

-33,093

New Mexico

1,142

1,715

11,521

New York

38,308

-32,896

22,165

North Carolina

-106,903

-62,081

-7,749

Oklahoma

18,789

69,406

27,380

Oregon

-25,468

-19,478

14,580

Pennsylvania

-170,533

-98,188

-18,705

South Dakota

-2,156

612

6,095

Wyoming

2,066

6,090

6,942

Total

-418,388

-320,751

268,097

In some states, we see declines across the board—likely the result of cleaning up voter registration lists after the election (e.g., Alaska or California). In other states, voter registration has increased across the board, including fast-growing states such as Arizona and Colorado. But in places like Florida, Iowa, and Louisiana, Democratic and Republican registration is down while Independent registration has increased. This suggests that voters are actively leaving the parties, or that new voters are declining to align with either party.

Percentage Change in Voter Registration, 2012–2013, by Growth in Independents

 State

Democrats

Republicans

Independents

Colorado

11.01%

8.94%

28.05%

Wyoming

4.04%

3.80%

25.07%

Oklahoma

1.99%

8.38%

11.95%

Arizona

1.17%

0.79%

7.37%

South Dakota

-1.14%

0.25%

6.45%

New Mexico

0.19%

0.43%

5.11%

Kentucky

0.22%

2.10%

4.56%

Maryland

-0.35%

-0.99%

4.47%

Iowa

-1.87%

-1.99%

2.87%

Oregon

-2.92%

-2.84%

2.27%

Nevada

0.72%

-0.70%

2.01%

Delaware

0.83%

-1.12%

1.45%

New York

0.71%

-1.23%

0.99%

Louisiana

-3.05%

-0.90%

0.39%

Florida

-3.14%

-2.27%

0.26%

North Carolina

-3.72%

-3.03%

-0.45%

Maine

-1.36%

-1.58%

-0.57%

New Jersey

2.13%

0.75%

-1.26%

California

-0.43%

-2.44%

-1.42%

Pennsylvania

-4.00%

-3.14%

-1.68%

Massachusetts

-1.83%

-2.61%

-1.71%

Alaska

-3.85%

-2.10%

-2.33%

New Hampshire

-4.15%

-3.04%

-2.51%

Connecticut

-3.49%

-3.68%

-3.45%

District of Columbia

-2.10%

-5.75%

-4.52%

Total

-1.01%

-1.12%

1.10%

Above, we have organized the percentage change in Independents from greatest to smallest. The cumulative percentage change for all states in the number of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents is quite minimal overall—about one percent fewer Democrats and Republicans, with a one percent increase in Independents. But the picture in the states is radically different. Independent voter registration has increased by double digits in Colorado (28%), Wyoming (25%), and Oklahoma (12%), even as the numbers of Democrats and Republicans has continued to rise. Rather than voter apathy, this suggests that citizens are spurning both parties but not disengaging from the political process entirely.

#2: Independent voter registration has soared since 2008.

Voter turnout in the 2008 election hit a high point not seen in 50 years.3 That year’s presidential election was the culmination of two pro-Democratic waves—and registration for Democrats soared. Indeed, 2008 is viewed as a high water mark in modern American politics for Democratic electoral participation. Thus, Democrats started from a position of strength.

But since then, Democratic registration has fallen by nearly half-a-million voters while Independent registration has increased by nearly 2.5 million. This means that people either affirmatively switched their registration or new enrollees opted not to align with one of the two major parties. All told, between 2008 and 2013:

  • Democratic registration fell by 428,687, or 1%;
  • Republican registration fell by 12,714, or 0.04%; and,
  • Independent registration rose by 2,484,104, or 11.19%.
Voter Registration Changes 2008–2013

State

Democrats

Republicans

Independents

Alaska

-6,213

7,904

-156

Arizona

-58,164

11,258

274,596

California

248,878

-202,377

321,534

Colorado

118,902

130,044

341,545

Connecticut

-38,998

-12,399

-41,300

Delaware

22,963

-2,152

11,919

District of Columbia

34,747

-1,334

10,458

Florida

-130,271

59,899

456,570

Iowa

-82,544

24,521

2,757

Kentucky

7,443

121,626

39,144

Louisiana

-158,326

65,024

67,147

Maine

-11,737

1,388

-3,566

Maryland

108,324

23,133

157,099

Massachusetts

-36,228

-18,793

102,421

Nevada

-557

3,128

40,118

New Hampshire

-42,462

-15,159

-23,260

New Jersey

43,038

37,485

76,737

New Mexico

4,453

22,435

54,739

New York

197,584

-140,805

39,805

North Carolina

-102,879

-12,247

307,164

Oklahoma

-50,522

106,950

37,220

Oregon

-82,848

-30,297

128,225

Pennsylvania

-383,729

-210,090

58,820

South Dakota

-17,076

2,197

17,488

Wyoming

-12,465

15,947

6,880

Total

-428,687

-12,714

2,484,104

Independent voter registration rose faster than both parties in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota—14 of the 24 states under review. Democrats have shed voters while Republicans have gained in Iowa, Maine, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. Overall, there has been an 11.2% increase in Independent registration. But within some states that figure is as high as 47%.

Percentage Change in Voter Registration, 2008–2013, by Growth in Independents

 State

Democrats

Republicans

Independents

Colorado

14.11%

15.16%

47.05%

Arizona

-5.69%

1.01%

33.31%

Maryland

5.56%

2.49%

32.35%

New Mexico

0.75%

5.98%

30.03%

Wyoming

-18.99%

10.60%

24.79%

Oregon

-8.91%

-4.36%

24.26%

North Carolina

-3.59%

-0.61%

22.07%

Nevada

-0.10%

0.73%

21.85%

South Dakota

-8.35%

0.91%

21.03%

Kentucky

0.45%

11.54%

20.51%

Florida

-2.71%

1.46%

18.23%

Oklahoma

-4.99%

13.53%

16.98%

District of Columbia

10.82%

-4.38%

15.08%

Louisiana

-10.26%

8.75%

10.27%

California

3.24%

-3.73%

9.33%

Delaware

8.20%

-1.18%

8.48%

Pennsylvania

-8.57%

-6.48%

5.69%

Massachusetts

-2.32%

-3.83%

4.78%

New Jersey

2.41%

3.55%

3.06%

New York

3.77%

-5.05%

1.78%

Iowa

-11.81%

4.14%

0.39%

Alaska

-8.10%

6.24%

-0.06%

Maine

-3.64%

0.53%

-0.98%

Connecticut

-5.00%

-2.90%

-4.67%

New Hampshire

-15.04%

-5.40%

-5.88%

Total

-1.03%

-0.04%

11.19%

Many of the most significant increases were in Mountain West states:

  • Independent registration has increased by 28% in Colorado, and now stands at 1,067,516, or 35% of registered voters—outnumbering Democrats and Republicans.
  • In New Mexico, registration has increased by less than a one-half of a percent for Democrats and Republicans, but it has increased by more than five percent for Independents.
  • In Wyoming, Independent voter registration is up 25% in the past year.
  • And in Arizona, partisan registration is up slightly, but Independent registration has risen 7.4%, with Independents now outnumbering Democrats.

Population increases may explain some of this change. But, this is also part of a larger national trend away from the parties and towards increasing numbers of Independents.

Conclusion

Approval ratings for Congress, the parties, and political leaders are all down sharply this year. The number of self-identified Independents in national polling continues to rise. Partisan voter registration data confirms these trends—Americans are increasingly voting with their feet and calling themselves “Independent.”

These changes could have a profound impact on the candidates nominated for office. Several states where Independent registration has increased over the past five years have closed primaries—think places like New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Kentucky, Wyoming, Florida, and Maryland. If the remaining partisans are ideologically pure liberals and conservatives, candidates will increasingly reflect those voters’ preferences. The result could be cyclical—ideologically homogenous electorates in closed primary states nominating ideologically pure candidates, further alienating moderates and Independents, turning off more voters, and pushing more people into the “unaffiliated” category.

Appendix A

2013 Voter Registration by Party

State

Democrats

Republicans

Independents

Alaska

70,516

134,487

262,658

Arizona

964,088

1,129,845

1,099,046

California

7,932,373

5,225,675

3,766,457

Colorado

961,386

987,797

1,067,516

Connecticut

741,340

414,711

842,723

Delaware

302,879

179,706

152,462

DC

355,774

29,131

79,798

Florida

4,670,619

4,166,642

2,960,860

Iowa

616,295

616,918

714,462

Kentucky

1,669,536

1,175,497

229,989

Louisiana

1,385,514

808,391

720,925

Maine

310,706

265,320

359,746

Maryland

2,055,147

950,931

642,753

Massachusetts

1,523,236

471,466

2,244,299

Nevada

530,760

433,722

223,707

New Hampshire

239,959

265,348

372,340

New Jersey

1,825,594

1,092,888

2,588,104

New Mexico

597,351

397,707

237,019

New York

5,441,544

2,649,058

2,271,671

North Carolina

2,763,790

1,990,169

1,699,175

Oklahoma

962,072

897,663

256,450

Oregon

846,893

665,380

656,721

Pennsylvania

4,095,784

3,032,956

1,091,849

South Dakota

187,337

243,725

100,635

Wyoming

53,175

166,451

34,637

 Total

41,103,668

28,391,584

24,676,002

Appendix B

Voter Registration Data Sources

State

2008

Alaska

http://www.elections.alaska.gov/statistics/vi_vrs_stats_party_2008.10.12.htm

Arizona

http://www.azsos.gov/election/voterreg/2008-10-22.pdf

http://www.azsos.gov/election/voterreg/VRcounts2008.htm

California

http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/ror/ror-pages/15day-presgen-08/county.pdf

http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/ror/ror-pages/15day-presgen-08/ror-102008.htm

Colorado

http://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/VoterRegNumbers/2008VoterRegNumbers.html

http://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/VoterRegNumbers/2008/December/PartyAffiliation.pdf

Connecticut

http://www.sots.ct.gov/sots/cwp/view.asp?a=3179&q=401492

http://www.sots.ct.gov/sots/lib/sots/electionservices/registration_and_enrollment_stats/2008_registration_and_enrollment_statistics.pdf

Delaware

http://elections.delaware.gov/reports/agprpt_2008.html

DC

http://www.dcboee.org/voter_stats/voter_reg/2008.asp

Florida

http://election.dos.state.fl.us/nvra/history.asp

Iowa

http://sos.iowa.gov/elections/voterreg/county.html

http://sos.iowa.gov/elections/pdf/VRStatsArchive/2008/CoNov08.pdf

Kentucky

http://elect.ky.gov/SiteCollectionDocuments/Election%20Results/2000-2009/2008/General%20Election/Voter%20Reg%20Stat%20Cong%20Dist%20gen%2008.txt

Louisiana

http://www.sos.la.gov/ElectionsAndVoting/Pages/RegistrationStatisticsStatewide.aspx

http://electionstatistics.sos.la.gov/Data/Registration_Statistics/Statewide/2008_1103_sta_comb.pdf

Maine

http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/prevregandenroll.htm

http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/2010/20081104r-e-active.pdf

http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/2010/20080610r-e-inactive.pdf

Maryland

http://www.elections.state.md.us/voter_registration/stats.html

http://www.elections.state.md.us/pdf/vrar/2008_10.pdf

Massachusetts

http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/ele08/ele08idx.htm

http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/elepdf/st_county_town_enroll_breakdown_08.pdf

Nevada

http://nvsos.gov/SOSElectionPages/voter-reg/2008/CLOSEmaina.aspx

New Hampshire

http://sos.nh.gov/NamesHistory.aspx

New Jersey

http://nj.gov/state/elections/election-information-archive-2008.html#2

http://nj.gov/state/elections/election-results/2008-voter-registration-summary102008.pdf

New Mexico

http://www.sos.state.nm.us/Elections_Data/2008_Voter_Registration_Data.aspx

http://www.sos.state.nm.us/uploads/FileLinks/09831ac556354351b60da1c7e4f5b3f2/StatewideGen2008.pdf

New York

http://www.elections.ny.gov/EnrollmentCounty.html

http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/enrollment/county/county_nov08.pdf

North Carolina

http://www.app.sboe.state.nc.us/webapps/voter_stats/results.aspx?date=11-04-2008

Oklahoma

http://www.ok.gov/elections/Voter_Registration/Voter_Registration_Reports/index.html

http://www.ok.gov/elections/documents/reg_0108.pdf

Oregon

http://bluebook.state.or.us/state/elections/elections07.htm

Pennsylvania

http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=572645&mode=2

South Dakota

http://sdsos.gov/content/viewcontent.aspx?cat=elections&pg=/elections/upcomingelection_2008PrimaryRegComp.htm

Wyoming

http://soswy.state.wy.us/Elections/VRStats.aspx

http://soswy.state.wy.us/Elections/Docs/VRStats/2008VR_stats.pdf


State

2012

Alaska

http://www.elections.alaska.gov/statistics/vi_vrs_stats_party_2012.10.12.htm

Arizona

http://www.azsos.gov/election/voterreg/2012-10-30.pdf

http://www.azsos.gov/election/voterreg/VRcounts2012.htm

California

http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/ror/ror-pages/15day-general-12/congressional1.pdf

http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/ror/ror-pages/15day-general-12/

Colorado

http://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/VoterRegNumbers/2012VoterRegNumbers.html

http://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/VoterRegNumbers/2012/December/VotersByPartyStatus.pdf

Connecticut

http://www.sots.ct.gov/sots/cwp/view.asp?a=3179&q=401492

http://www.sots.ct.gov/sots/lib/sots/electionservices/registration_and_enrollment_stats/nov12re.pdf

Delaware

http://elections.delaware.gov/reports/agprpt_2012_new.shtml

DC

http://www.dcboee.org/voter_stats/voter_reg/2012.asp

Florida

http://election.dos.state.fl.us/nvra/history.asp

Iowa

http://sos.iowa.gov/elections/voterreg/county.html

http://sos.iowa.gov/elections/pdf/VRStatsArchive/2012/CoNov12.pdf

Kentucky

http://elect.ky.gov/SiteCollectionDocuments/Election%20Results/2010-2019/2012/statcongg.txt

Louisiana

http://www.sos.la.gov/ElectionsAndVoting/Pages/RegistrationStatisticsStatewide.aspx

http://electionstatistics.sos.la.gov/Data/Registration_Statistics/Statewide/2012_1101_sta_comb.pdf

Maine

http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/prevregandenroll.htm

http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/2012/r-e-active.pdf

http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/2012/r-e-inactive.pdf

Maryland

http://www.elections.state.md.us/voter_registration/stats.html

http://www.elections.state.md.us/pdf/vrar/2012_10.pdf

Massachusetts

http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/ele12/ele12idx.htm

http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/ele12/06NOV2012_ST_Party_Enrollment_Stats_3.pdf

Nevada

http://www.nvsos.gov/index.aspx?page=1269

New Hampshire

http://sos.nh.gov/NamesHistory.aspx

New Jersey

http://nj.gov/state/elections/election-information-archive-2012.html

http://nj.gov/state/elections/2012-results/2012-1025-statewide-voter-regs-summary-district.pdf

New Mexico

http://www.sos.state.nm.us/Elections_Data/2012_Voter_Registration_Data.aspx

http://www.sos.state.nm.us/uploads/FileLinks/2966cef424224c59b1abaf5b30a91116/STATEWIDEOCT312012.PDF

New York

http://www.elections.ny.gov/EnrollmentCounty.html

http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/enrollment/county/county_nov12.pdf

North Carolina

http://www.app.sboe.state.nc.us/webapps/voter_stats/results.aspx?date=11-06-2012

Oklahoma

http://www.ok.gov/elections/Voter_Registration/Voter_Registration_Reports/index.html

http://www.ok.gov/elections/documents/reg_0112.pdf

Oregon

http://bluebook.state.or.us/state/elections/elections07.htm

Pennsylvania

http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=572645&mode=2

South Dakota

http://sdsos.gov/content/viewcontent.aspx?cat=elections&pg=/elections/upcomingelection_2008PrimaryRegComp.htm

Wyoming

http://soswy.state.wy.us/Elections/VRStats.aspx

http://soswy.state.wy.us/Elections/Docs/VRStats/2012VR_stats.pdf


State

2013

Alaska

http://www.elections.alaska.gov/statistics/vi_vrs_stats_party_2013.11.03.htm

Arizona

http://www.azsos.gov/election/voterreg/2013-10-01.pdf

http://www.azsos.gov/election/voterreg/VRcounts2014.htm

California

http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/ror/ror-pages/ror-odd-year-2013/county.pdf

http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/ror/ror-pages/ror-odd-year-2013/

Colorado

http://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/VoterRegNumbers/VoterRegNumbers.html

http://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/VoterRegNumbers/2013/October/VotersByPartyStatus.pdf

Connecticut

http://www.sots.ct.gov/sots/cwp/view.asp?a=3179&q=401492

http://www.sots.ct.gov/sots/lib/sots/releases/2013/11.4.13_merrill_pre-election_news_release.pdf

Delaware

http://elections.delaware.gov/reports/e70r2601sd_20131101.shtml

DC

http://www.dcboee.org/voter_stats/voter_reg/2013.asp

Florida

http://election.dos.state.fl.us/nvra/history.asp

Iowa

http://sos.iowa.gov/elections/voterreg/county.html

http://sos.iowa.gov/elections/pdf/VRStatsArchive/2013/CoNov13.pdf

Kentucky

http://elect.ky.gov/SiteCollectionDocuments/Election%20Statistics/statcong.txt

Louisiana

http://www.sos.la.gov/ElectionsAndVoting/Pages/RegistrationStatisticsStatewide.aspx

http://electionstatistics.sos.la.gov/Data/Registration_Statistics/Statewide/2013_1101_sta_comb.pdf

Maine

http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/data.htm

http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/2013/r-e-active8-13.pdf

http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/2013/r-e-inact8-13.pdf

Maryland

http://www.elections.state.md.us/voter_registration/stats.html

http://www.elections.state.md.us/pdf/vrar/2013_10.pdf

Massachusetts

— 

Nevada

http://www.nvsos.gov/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=2976

New Hampshire

http://sos.nh.gov/NamesHistory.aspx

New Jersey

http://nj.gov/state/elections/election-information-archive-2013.html

http://nj.gov/state/elections/2013-results/2013-1029-statewide-voter-regs-summary-leg-district.pdf

New Mexico

http://www.sos.state.nm.us/Elections_Data/Voter_Registration_Statistics.aspx

http://www.sos.state.nm.us/uploads/FileLinks/2966cef424224c59b1abaf5b30a91116/STATEWIDE1152013.PDF

New York

http://www.elections.ny.gov/EnrollmentCounty.html

http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/enrollment/county/county_nov13.pdf

North Carolina

http://www.app.sboe.state.nc.us/webapps/voter_stats/results.aspx?date=11-09-2013

Oklahoma

http://www.ok.gov/elections/Voter_Registration/Voter_Registration_Reports/index.html

http://www.ok.gov/elections/documents/reg_0113.pdf

Oregon

http://www.oregonvotes.gov/pages/history/stats/13mvr.html

http://www.oregonvotes.gov/doc/voterresources/registration/oct13.pdf

Pennsylvania

http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/voter_registration_statistics/12725

South Dakota

http://sdsos.gov/content/viewcontent.aspx?cat=elections&pg=/elections/upcomingelection_2008PrimaryRegComp.htm

Wyoming

http://soswy.state.wy.us/Elections/VRStats.aspx

http://soswy.state.wy.us/Elections/Docs/VRStats/2013/13NovVR_stats.pdf

  1. “Party Affiliation,” Gallup, Accessed on November 22, 2013. Available at: http://www.gallup.com/poll/15370/party-affiliation.aspx.

  2. Please see Appendix A for voter registration data sources.

  3. Michael P. McDonald, “Turnout in the 2012 Presidential Election,” Huffington Post, Published February 11, 2013, Accessed November 22, 2013. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-p-mcdonald/turnout-in-the-2012-presi_b_2663122.html.

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