We have covered the voter registration rather extensively and often found the GOP making great strides compared to their 2008 effort (even in gawd awful Nevada). With the voter registration window closing in most every state, Dante Chinni, who studies these Battlegrounds even where there isn’t an election, stepped back to look at who is actually “winning” the voter registration battle. It’s not as easy to assess as you might think because with most statistics in an election season, both side can make compelling arguments why their side has the advantage:
Every few years America’s major political parties get very interested in getting people registered to vote – or maybe more accurately, in getting the “right” people registered to vote. It’s a lot easier to come up with a winning hand on Election Day when the deck is stacked in your favor. So, for months now, supporters of President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney have been knocking on doors and standing corners trying to register like-minded people. election every vote may count, particularly in the swing states.
That depends on the state you look at and the comparison point you choose. Both sides can point to some numbers in their favor. But when you step back and look at the numbers in fuller context, the real question may be how much those Democratic and Republican registrations will really matter. The Obama team is up in registrations in key states, as they noted this week, but overall it could be argued Obama is having a bit of a down year. The percentage of voters registered as Democrats in every one of these states is lower than it was in 2008. And there were drops of two percentage points or greater in Florida, Iowa and North Carolina. That said, 2012 has not been a gangbusters year for the GOP either. The percentage of Republican registrations is up in one state compared to 2008 – Iowa – slightly down in three others – Colorado, Nevada and North Carolina – and they are flat Pennsylvania and Florida. On the whole, however, when you look at all the current numbers, as a measure of enthusiasm or interest, compared to 2008 they would seem to indicate: advantage GOP.
Is 2008 the correct comparison?
Using the 2008 election as a measuring stick is problematic, though. It was not a normal race. There was big enthusiasm on both sides of the aisle. Voter registration counts were up in most states across the country – in some cases sharply. And remember Mr. Obama won that race comfortably, by seven percentage points and nearly 200 electoral votes. In other words, team Obama probably doesn’t need to match those figures to win — and if you use a different year as your comparison point, the question of “who’s winning” in the registration war shifts considerably.
Consider the registration numbers from 2004, the last time the Republican candidate won the White House. If you compare the most recent 2012 registration numbers to 2004 figures, the percentage of voters registered as Democrats is up in four of the six states – all but Florida and North Carolina. Meanwhile, the percentage of voters registered as Republicans is down in five of the six states. It is up in only Iowa. So, using that measure: advantage Democrats.
But before either party celebrates anything, there are a few points worth noting. While it’s tempting to think that registrations are some kind of indicator for a coming election – and we’re sure to hear a lot about them in the next few weeks – they can also be deceptive, particularly when it comes to national elections. There are often local issues, political and historical, that can push voters to register as Democrats or Republicans.
Only 27% of the people in the Granite State were registered as Democrats in 2004, while 31% were registered as Republicans – yet the Democratic candidate, Sen. John Kerry, won the state by a little more than one percentage point. In 2008, the Democrats saw a slight improvement in registrations, up to 29.5%, but Mr. Obama won the state in a landslide – by almost 10 percentage points. In fact, he won every county in the state.
The Independent trump card
Right now the 2012 election looks like its shaping up to be very close. And yes, a few more registrations for Democrats or Republicans may matter. But look closer at the registrations numbers in those states. In every one of them one group has grown in every state since 2008, independents – voters who aren’t registered with either party. They make up double-digits of the electorate in each state, and the way they split their vote will likely be decisive.
Thankfully for us, Romney is up HUGE with Independents.