Friday, May 12, 2006

California Dems can't ignore declining registration

The Sacramento Bee reports:
State election officials released new voter registration data late last month and they were bad news for Democrats.

The Democrats' share of the state's 15.6 million registered voters, 42.7 percent, is 2.5 percentage points lower than it was four years ago, 4.1 percentage points lower than it was eight years ago, and 6.2 percentage points lower than it was 12 years ago. There are, in fact, about 200,000 fewer registered Democrats than in 1994, even though the number of potential voters has risen by nearly 4 million since then and the number of registered voters is up by 1.5 million.

Do we see a pattern here? Democratic politicians may comfort themselves with the fact that during that 12-year period, the party has maintained strong majorities in the congressional delegation and the Legislature, and won both U.S. Senate seats and almost all other statewide offices _ but that stems largely from Republicans' self-destructive tendency to field right-wing candidates unacceptable to independent voters. The fact remains that the Democrats' share of the electorate has skidded downward from 57-plus percent three decades ago to scarcely 40 percent today, and continues to shrink.

Republicans haven't directly benefited from the Democrats' decline. The new data confirmed that the GOP's share remains virtually fixed at just under 35 percent _ almost exactly where it was 30 years ago when Democrats were flirting with 60 percent. But that also means that the margin separating the two parties is the lowest it's been since the 1930s. It also means that the ever-growing ranks of independents _ up from 10.3 percent in 1994 to 18.3 percent today _ are increasingly decisive in any seriously contested elections, such as this year's duel for the governorship.
The Democratic Party in California might have peaked.