New voter registration tallies from the California Secretary of State’s office show that Republican Party is continuing to shed voters. Analysts say that teavangelical hardline opposition on social issues and tax policy in Washington and nationwide is driving voters out of the GOP column in the nation’s largest state.
– Matt David, California Republican strategist
In 1996, 37 percent of California registered voters were Republicans. In 2007, the number had dropped to 30.9 percent, or 5.3 million voters. The latest figures show a decline this year — despite a GOP pre-primary registration drive by Ron Paul supporters — to 30.2 percent, or 5,180,417 registered Republicans.
In 1972, just 5 percent of Californians were registered independents. By 1996, the number of independents had doubled to 10.7 percent. In 2007, it rose to 18.8 percent, or 2.9 million voters. Last year, fully one-fifth of California voters — 20.4 percent, or 3.5 million voters — had registered as independents. This year the percentage rose again to 21.3 percent, or 3.7 million.
The gap between registered Republicans and independents is already in single digits — 8.9 percent points now — and the trendline suggests it is narrowing.
The number of registered Democrats has remained roughly around 44 percent. There was a slight decline after the 2008 cycle, when 44 percent, or 7.6 million voters, were registered Democrats, to this year, when the number of registered Dems was 43.4 percent, or 7.44 million voters.
George Skelton, Sacramento columnist for the Los Angeles Times, asked a state Republican operative what was driving the downward trend in GOP registrations:
“In California, the Republican Party has done tremendous damage to its brand with its positions on immigration and gay marriage,” [Matt David, who was former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's communications director,] says. “Add to that the no-tax pledge.
“You can be fundamentally opposed to a tax increase, but to sign a pledge never to vote for a tax doesn’t allow you to have honest negotiations with the other side.”
The GOP consultant adds, “A Republican committed to public service who wants to serve the state in an elected capacity is absolutely going to have to consider running as an independent, given the damage done to the Republican brand.”
The turnaround in fortunes for the California GOP began after the party, under the leadership of Gov. Pete Wilson, tied its fortunes to Proposition 187, the draconian anti-immigrant ballot initiative that passed overwhelmingly in 1994. The impeachment of Pres. Clinton for lying in a deposition in a civil case by Republicans in Congress may have also driven some Republicans out the party, as well. (It did in my family, for example.)