The I's Have It: Pre-Convention Voter Registration Analysis
In just a few weeks, Democrats and Republicans will descend upon Charlotte and Tampa Bay, respectively, for their party’s nominating conventions. Both North Carolina and Florida are key presidential battlegrounds in 2012, and both parties hope the attention and engagement in these contested states will excite their members and attract new voters. But on the eve of these quintessential partisan gatherings, new voter registration statistics show that it is Independents, not party members, who are skyrocketing this election season.
Our latest analysis finds that since 2008, both parties have lost voters, with Democratic registration decreasing by approximately 800,000 and Republican registration decreasing by a much smaller 80,000. (The competitive GOP presidential primary likely slowed Republican losses.) However, during the same time period Independent registration has increased by nearly half-a-million in the 8 presidential battlegrounds that keep voter registration data by party.*
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.
In this memo, we build on our ongoing study of voter registration data in the presidential battleground states, as well as taking a deeper dive to better understand the patterns in the convention states which will be the focus of so much energy for the next month. The numbers show that since 2008:
- Independent voter registration has increased while both Democratic and Republican registration have declined;
- Independents gained in North Carolina, particularly in the largest counties of Mecklenburg and Wake, which accounted for nearly one-quarter of President Obama’s votes in 2008; and,
- In Florida, nearly as many Hispanics have registered as Independents as have registered as Democrats or as Republicans, combined
Independents Gain in Battleground States
Since 2008, the number of Independents in the 8 presidential battleground states has increased substantially. By contrast, party registration is down, with Democratic registration declining significantly and Republican registration doing so by a lesser margin. In total, since 2008 in these 8 states:
- Democratic registration has declined by 800,329, or 5.2%, and now stands at 14,624,665;
- Republican registration has declined by 78,985, or 0.7%, and now stands at 12,114,524; and,
- Independent registration has increased by 486,677, or 6.4%, and now stands at 8,083,829
All data sources for statewide voter registration statistics can be found in the Appendix. Where possible, we have included data for both active and inactive voters.
In 6 of the 8 states—Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania—Independent registration has outpaced both Democratic and Republican registration since 2008. In the remaining two, Republicans have had the edge—likely the result of the competitive GOP primary. In Iowa, Republican registration increased by 6.4% while Democratic and, to a lesser extent, Independent registration fell. In New Hampshire, voter registration has declined across the board; however, Republicans have shed the fewest voters.
Given their heightened numbers, Independents will play an even more important role in determining the outcome in these battleground states this November.
The Democratic Convention State: North Carolina
Since 2008, North Carolina has witnessed a decline in both Democratic and Republican registration, coupled with a staggering increase in Independent voters. Democratic registration has fallen by 116,662, or 4.1%, and now stands at 2,753,838. Republican registration has fallen by 13,017, or 0.7%, and now stands at 1,992,465. However, Independent voter registration has increased dramatically, by 207,173, or 14.4%, and now sits at 1,609,644. As a result, Independents now comprise one-quarter of North Carolina’s registered voters.
These changes in the electorate are especially evident in the state’s two largest counties—both of which were crucial to President Obama’s victory in North Carolina in 2008. During the last presidential election, President Obama won 62% of the vote in Mecklenburg County and 57% in Wake County.1 Combined, these counties supplied President Obama with 504,849 of his 2,142,651 votes in North Carolina, 23.6% of all votes he received in the state. In these two counties, Independent registration has increased by nearly 11% and 17% respectively since the last presidential election. With these gains, Independent voters now make up 27% and nearly 30% of the electorate in these two key counties.
Mecklenburg County is home to Charlotte, the largest city in North Carolina and the site of the Democratic National Convention, and is the largest county in the state. Between 2000 and 2010, the county’s population increased by 32.2% to more than 900,000.2 Since 2008, voter registration in the county has increased by 11,804, or 1.9%, and now stands at 639,801.3 Between 2008 and 2012:
- Democratic registration increased by 2,806, or 1.0%, and now stands at 289,384;
- Republican registration decreased by 8,768, or 4.8%, and now stands at 175,803; and,
- Independent registration increased by 16,552, or 10.6%, and now stands at 173,046.
Independent voters now comprise 27.3% of Mecklenburg County’s registered voters, up 2.3 points since 2008. Gains in Independent registration appear to have come from Republicans, who have shed the most voters and shrunk from 29.4% of the county’s registered voters to 27.5%.
Wake County is home to Raleigh, the capitol of North Carolina, and is the state’s second largest county. Between 2000 and 2010, its population increased by 43.5% and is now over 900,000.4 Since 2008, voter registration in Wake County has increased by 26,850, or 4.5%, and now stands at 622,563.5 Between 2008 and 2012:
- Democratic registration decreased by 514, or 0.2%, and now stands at 252,540;
- Republican registration decreased by 245, or 0.1%, and now stands at 183,857;
- Independent registration increased by 26,156, or 16.6%, and now stands at 184,137.
Independent voters now comprise 29.9% of Wake County’s registered voters, up 3 points since 2008. Indeed, Independents in Wake County are now a larger portion of registered voters than Republicans.
If President Obama is going to repeat his 2008 victory in North Carolina, it will likely be by the smallest of margins. These growing groups of Independents in key counties and throughout the state will hold the keys to a repeat performance for Democrats.
The Republican Convention State: Florida
Since 2008, Democratic registration in Florida has decreased while Republican registration has remained flat. Democratic registration fell by 235,378 voters, or 4.9%, and is now at 4,565,512. Republican registration inched up by 18,990, or 0.5%, and is now at 4,125,733. But the biggest gains in Florida came from Independents, whose numbers increased by 205,537, or 8.2%, and now sit at 2,709,827. As a result of these changes, the composition of registered voters in Florida has shifted, with Democrats down 2 points, Republicans up two-tenths of a point, and Independents netting the rest.*
Voters who do not select either the Democratic or Republican parties—those with no affiliation or belonging to a minor party—are categorized as “Other” by Florida’s Division of Elections. Comparative data over several years is available in this format for statewide statistics. The figures for Independent voter registration statewide reflect this “Other” category.
Race and Party Registration
This increase in Independents is not the only story in Florida. While there were more Black, non-Hispanic registered voters in 2008 than Hispanic registered voters in the state, those numbers have now flipped. Since 2008, the number of Hispanic registered voters has increased by 195,365, or 14.4%, and now stands at 1,550,635.6 During that same time period, the number of Black, non-Hispanic registered voters increased by 50,722, or 3.5%, and now stands at 1,519,404. The number of White registered voters in the state declined slightly by 44,309, or 0.6%, to 7,729,110.
This increase in Hispanic voters has coincided with an increase in Independents.* Since 2008, nearly as many Hispanic voters have registered as Independents as have registered as Democrats or Republicans combined—96,296 for the former and 96,954 for the latter. And there are now more Hispanics registered as Independents in Florida than as Republicans, which was not the case in 2008.
The data for voter registration by race and party released by Florida’s Division of Elections include only those without party affiliation—No Party Affiliation (NPA)—as opposed to the “Other” category, which includes minor parties.
The trend is somewhat different with Black, non-Hispanic registered voters, whose numbers have grown at a much slower rate. Black voter registration increased by 25,863, or 2.1%, for Democrats and by 29,081, or 18.3%, for Independents since 2008. But despite the increase in Independents, 82.5% of Black voters in Florida are still registered as a Democrat. By contrast, only 38.2% of Hispanics are registered as Democrats in the state.
Among White, non-Hispanic registered voters, the biggest changes since 2008 have occurred in the numbers of Democrats and Independents. Democratic registration among White voters in Florida fell by 240,974, or 8.8%, since 2008. By contrast, White, non-Hispanic registration for Independents increased by 153,568, or 11.7%.
Florida will no doubt be a crucial battleground in the 2012 presidential race, and the rise of Independents across these demographic groups will give Independent voters an outsize role in deciding which way the state swings.
Both voter registration statistics and public polling have consistently shown that Independents are on the rise. These newest numbers indicate just how important Independent voters will be to winning the key battleground states that will decide the election. This year, both parties (and especially Democrats) will be starting with a smaller coalition than they had in 2008, and wooing Independents will be the only path to make up that gap and declare victory.
Voter registration data is available from states’ Election/Secretary of State websites. It is updated a different intervals—some doing so only when the registration books are closed before elections and others releasing updated information weekly. The exact webpages where voter registration data is housed for the 2 years used in this report—2008 and 2012—are listed in the table below. The data for 2012 is current through:
Colorado: August 1, 2012
Florida: June 2012
Iowa: August 2, 2012
Nevada: July 31, 2012
New Hampshire: January 10, 2012 (no updates until book closing)
New Mexico: July 31, 2012
North Carolina: August 4, 2012
Pennsylvania: July 30, 2012
Voter Registration Data Sources
The websites were checked and verified August 3–7, 2012. The 2008 data from New Mexico had been available on-line through their website listed above. However, they have recently altered their website and the data is no longer available. The data was previously found and cited in Third Way’s initial report, released in November of 2011 and available here.