Here's one way to possibly interpret the latest voter registration data: Californians don't have an aversion to participating in the political process... but they do have a growing reluctance to participate in political parties.
Following a familiar trend from the last few years, more and more California voters are choosing to be free agents; more than one of every five now have rejected an official party affiliation.
Secretary of State Debra Bowen's new report finds 17 million registered voters in California as of early April. That's 3.7 million more than at the same point in 2008, and almost 72% of those eligible to vote in the Golden State.
And of those registered to vote, 21.3% now are unaffiliated with a political party. The state used to call these folks people who "decline to state (DTS)" a party preference; now they are called voters with "no party preference (NPP)."
(As politicos and researchers alike will point out, however, many of them actually do have a party preference, but just choose not to have a party affiliation.)
That's a 5% uptick in independent voters in California since January 2004 and almost double the percentage of the electorate that was unaffiliated with a party in 1996.
Meantime, back in the world of party politics, the bleeding away of Republicans continues. The new registration report shows only 30.3% of voters are members of the Grand Old Party That's a one-tenth of a percentage point drop from last June, and a 12.2 point gap with Democrats, who now make up 43.5% of the state electorate.
Republicans had narrowed the Democratic registration advantage to single digits earlier this decade, but those seem to have been the red tide's high water mark.
Another way of looking at the GOP's problems is to examine the list of counties in which they dominate, and those in which Dems rule the roost. There, the data shows that the top Republican counties in California tend to be smaller and more rural -- Modoc and Lassen are #1 and #2 -- compared to the top Democratic counties -- Alameda and San Francisco -- which are home to a lot more voters. That trend holds up for most of the top ten counties for both of the major parties.
And even that doesn't really show the dominance of Democrats. As mentioned earlier, the "no party preference" label doesn't really explain who these 3.6 million Californians really are. After all, the top county for NPP registration continues to be... wait for it... San Francisco. Those are hardly voters who are up for grabs for GOP candidates and causes.
The new registration report also is the first to assess the impact of the Americans Elect movement. The organization is, in the eyes of California elections officials, a minor party... but its backers insist its more of a nonpartisan movement. Americans Elect has promised to give its spot on the fall presidential ballot to the politician receiving the most online votes of "delegates" -- regardless of whether that politician is a Democrat, Republican, or of any other partisan affiliation.
Only 3,104 Californians are registered as members of Americans Elect -- .02% of the electorate. That puts them about 134,000 behind the next lowest grouping of voters... the ones elections officials simply call "other."