Monday, February 22, 2016

New California Registration Report Tells Us Nothing

This article popped up linked in my Twitter feed. The headline is “Republican voter registration tanks in California.” I shuddered. The new registration report must be an awful one for the GOP. It turns out it isn’t. But never let the facts get in the way of a good story. And the media has enjoyed the story that Republicans are tanking in California and have been since 1994 due to the national party’s stance on immigration.

Of course regular readers of this blog know that the Republican started tanking in California since the early 1950s. Democrats have held the majority, and usually 60%+, of the assembly for 52 of the last 56 years and in the senate for 50 of 56. Democrats won 6 of 7 statewide elections in 1974 and have had similar results ever since. The 1994 election was an anomaly.

But I digress. If you compare this registration report to the 2015 report you’ll see that there are 207k less Democrats and 191k less Republicans. Yes, Democratic registration dropped more than Republican registration. Hmm. That’s the opposite of the headline. Other parties/NPP dropped by 61k. So everyone dropped.

That doesn’t mean it’s a good report for Republicans. In fact this report doesn’t tell us much of anything.

California’s voter rolls contain a lot of names that don’t vote. In 2014 the turnout was only 42.2% of registered voters. Some people have interpreted this as being due to voter apathy but there’s another factor at play and that’s that there are a lot of people on the voter rolls who are no longer voters. They’ve either moved or died. I suppose that’s a form of moved since they’d no longer be at the same address.

Some of the county registrars have spent the last year getting rid of people who shouldn’t be registered at their current address. That’s why the numbers drop so much. Democrats aren’t losing 207k voters. They’re losing 207k names on the rolls. They’re people who didn’t vote in 2014 and, thus, weren’t in the pool of possible voters. The real numbers of Republicans, Democrats, and others are even lower than what’s here. If the county registrars were so good at this that they were able to cull all the ineligible names from the lists then we’d have a good idea what the true party registration percentages are.

Eliminating more Democratic names isn’t a negative for Democrats, as these people didn’t leave their party. They weren’t there to begin with at the last election. There are new registrants, but the Secretary of State doesn’t provide a report of new registrants, only an overall report. Since NPP only fell by 34k, the other 27k drop was minor parties, it’s likely that a good share of new registrants were NPP. Of course them having no party preference doesn’t tell us who they favor.

The registrations dropped the most in San Bernardino (-15%), Santa Clara (-9%), San Diego (-9%), Ventura (-8%), and Riverside (-4%) counties. This is probably because those registrars put in more work to figure out what names were no longer eligible voters than other counties did, not because people left those counties.

San Francisco county had a 4% increase in registrations. Don’t expect voting to be there this year. It’s likely that the registrar didn’t bother to cull the lists. If San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Contra Costa counties had conduced a purge the way San Bernardino did, and Orange County did a year ago, Democrats would’ve suffered bigger loses than the 207k above. That doesn’t mean Republicans are stronger than the report indicates. We just really don’t know.

This registration report doesn’t tell us who the new registrants are with each party. Thus, this report, like many in the past, doesn’t tell us much of anything about political party strength. Usually the only report that does is the 15 Day Report of Registration taken before the general election. In 2012, the SoS instituted online registration right before the election and Democrats got a much bigger increase than Republicans. Two years ago, however, both parties had only modest increases, indicating the online registration bump Democrats got in 2012 was likely long hanging fruit and that they won’t continue to benefit from it. That report is the only worth paying attention to. Unfortunately, it’ll come out after the November election.

So if you read more stories about how this is a bad report for Republicans, just ignore them. I just spent 750 words telling you there’s nothing to pay attention to. Someone had to tell you the LA Times article was a waste of your time.

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