The Left Coast: Not So Left Any More
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
The six year rise in Democrat strength over Republicans in statewide voter registration in California is over.
Thanks to an aggressive statewide voter registration program and a very favorable political environment for Republicans, the latest numbers from the California Secretary of State show the gap between Democrats and Republicans beginning to narrow.
Just as in economics, in politics we also have leading and lagging indicators. Leading indicators show where a trend will emerge, while lagging indicators confirm the trend months or years later.
When we look at voter registration, we recognize it as a lagging indicator. Its corresponding leading indicator is party-self identification.
Gallup has been tracking an increase in Republican self-identification nationally since mid-2009, around the time Obamacare took front and center in national attention. The rise in Republican self-identification began contemporaneously with an increase in the number of independent voters leaning Republican, indicating a broad shift in the mood of the electorate.
Changes in voter registration statistics lag behind changes in party self-identification for the simple reason that one does not automatically run to the Registrar of Voters to change their party affiliation the moment they decide they identify with a political party again. While can attitudes change quickly, and can be measured by pollsters in a timely manner, voters usually wait until they either move or are presented with a registration opportunity to change parties.
Consequently, changes in voter registration statistics can be expected after a sustained period of changes in party self-identification, as we have seen since mid-2009. Voter registration drives can accelerate the change, and their efficacy is significantly impacted by voter sentiments.
In California we’ve seen Republicans recently narrow the gap with Democrats by over 50,000 voters in a few months, with GOP numbers growing in 44 of 58 counties. In San Diego County, the fifth largest county in America and second largest in California, Democrats lost their plurality last month as the GOP once again is the county’s largest party. In Sacramento County, Republicans jumped from 31.7% to 33.2% since May alone.
The political environment for Democrats today is toxic, with voters trusting Republicans more than Democrats on 10 out of today’s 10 most important issues. Voters are looking for responsible alternatives, leading to GOP growth, even on the left coast, which looks less “left” each week.