There may be much made of polling numbers coming from the mid-July efforts of Gallup concerning Americans’ party affiliations. There probably ought to be a warning label attached suggesting not to consume these numbers without giving some thought to the context, and to the trends.
(1) There are now more people who declare themselves to be Independent voters than at any point in the past ten years. The percentage has increased from 27% in mid July 2004 to 45% in mid July 2014, for an overall increase of 18%.
(2) The percentage of individuals who self identify as Republicans has declined from a high of 35% in mid July 2004 to 23% in mid July 2014, or an overall decline of 12%. However, before assuming this to be a continuous and uninterrupted downward trend, note that GOP affiliation percentages stood at 29% in July 2011, and 31% in July 2006.
(3) The percentage of individuals identifying as Democrats was 36% in July 2004, and now stands at 29%, for a 7% overall decline. Again, take some caution, because the percentage of those who called themselves Democrats was 37% in 2009.
(4) The mean of Republican affiliation over the ten year period is approximately 28.18%, that of Independents at 36.9%, Democrats at 32. 81%. Those “leaning Republican” averages out to 41.36%, and those “leaning Democratic” averages out to about 47.35%.
It’s entirely too easy to say the decline in Party affiliation is a direct function of the increase in Independent identification. For one thing, the polling doesn’t take into account new voters. We don’t know from the basic numbers whether the person answering the pollster is a “new” voter or a person who has been voting since 1960. We can get a general idea of the political landscape from the charts and figures, but some care should be applied before jumping to definitive conclusions.
Another caveat that bears repeating is that Party affiliation doesn’t guarantee turnout. There’s an entire cottage industry devoted to implementing turnout strategies to attest to that truism.
What shouldn’t come as any surprise is that local voting registrations tend to mirror national trends, and Nevada is no exception:
“Nearly 15,000 Nevadans registered to vote in July 2014, with more than half choosing to identify as nonpartisan, as shown by numbers released today by Secretary of State Ross Miller’s Elections Division. Of the 1,184,251 active registrants statewide, 40.41% (478,598) are Democrats, 34.93% (413,615) are Republicans, 18.43% (218,267) are nonpartisan, 4.73% (56,062) are members of the Independent American Party, and the remaining 1.49% (17,709) are members of the Libertarian or other minor parties.” [NVSoS]
The next question to ask is who are these voters? One category currently popular with the punditry is age, and Nevada’s age and Party affiliation (pdf) looks like this:
As the graphic indicates, Party affiliation tends to increase with age, which should come as no great surprise to anyone. However, the Democratic Party in Nevada has a lead of 22,646 over its Republican counterpart in registered voters in the 18 to 24 year old bracket. There are 39,118 more registered Democrats in Nevada than Republicans in the 25 to 34 year old column.
If the old saw (people get more conservative as they get older) were completely true for Nevada voting registration values then we’d expect the blue column to decline as the brackets increase, but since they don’t we might conclude in this instance that non-partisan voters may tend to move into the GOP column, but in insufficient numbers to make up the gap until the 65 and over column is added. The over 65 voters are almost evenly split with 136,983 registered active Democrats and 135,315 registered active Republicans.
Whether those of us in the outback like it or not, Nevada IS an urban state, and the registration numbers in Washoe (Reno) and Clark (Las Vegas) counties matter.
There are 355,030 registered Democrats in Clark County as of the July reports, down from 370,641 listed in the January report of active voters. There were 253,153 registered Republicans in Clark County as of January 2014, and 248,288 listed in the July report.*
Republicans had 83,535 registered voters as of January 2014 in Washoe County, and 85,144 as of July 2014. Democrats had 79,557 registered voters in January 2014, and 80,325 as of the July report.*
Statewide, there were 493,929 registered Democrats as of the January 2014 report, which declined to 478,598 as of the July figures.* There were 416,015 registered Republicans in the January report, and 413,615 as of July 2014.* (*The reports are in PDF format and are available from the Nevada Secretary of State’s office here.)
And now that we’ve played with the numbers and charts — none of this makes a nickel’s worth of difference without Voter Turnout in the mid term elections.