Over the weekend an article appeared in the Baton Rouge/New Orleans Advocate on voting registration trends in Louisiana and what they might mean. And while it provided some interesting information, it could use some elaboration that political scientists, in addition to just the campaign consultants the reporter interviewed, that should underscore a future of continued Republican success and a looming Democrat disaster.
Disappointingly, the piece’s headline diverged from the reality of the text, proclaiming that “Voters skew away from mainstream parties” when in fact the only party experiencing “skew” is Democrats. Either that, or the headline writer made a huge Freudian slip by not considering the Republicans a “mainstream” party, although the use of plural suggests that was not the intent. The body made clear that Democrats were losing huge numbers while Republicans and no party/other designations (there are three other recognized minor parties but with registration totals that combined don’t reach five digits, changes in their raw totals are insignificant) were gaining. More properly, voters are skewing away only from the Democrats.
But even as the GOP continues to gain registrants, according to the most recent statistics at a pace of nearly 11 percent or around 77,000 since the 2008 election while Democrats have dropped over 139,000 or about 9 percent, no party/other voters’ numbers got a boost in that period of over 78,000 or above 12 percent. Democrats try to minimize these numbers by arguing the party, which almost two years ago had black registrants top whites for the first time ever, continues to pick up more solid black voters replacing less reliable white ones, the latter group they assert by their decision to switch or their generational replacement by others merely ratifying on paper their cohort’s already less reliable voting behavior for Democrats, has experienced little change in electoral potential.
But while there are 9,000 more black Democrats in Louisiana, that party has lost a whopping 150,000 white voters on its registration rolls. Faced with this reality, others argue that Democrat fortunes are not as bleak because of the increase in other/no party voters of blacks, who they assert regardless of registration almost always vote for Democrats.
That’s small solace for the Dems, as the number of no party/other blacks has jumped only 17,000 total in these five-plus years. So even if the number of no party/other voters represent a wash between the two major parties, Democrats have gained just 26,000 “reliable” voters while Republicans, making a very good assumption that a new Republican-registered voter is a reliable voter for Republican candidates, has picked up about three times as many. Any way you slice it, a net swing of 100,000-plus voters from Democrat to Republican columns in a state where the last gubernatorial election got a little over a million votes and that last Senate contest that drew 1.9 million votes is significantly good for Republicans and significantly bad for Democrats.
And this is the optimistic scenario for Democrats, because it conflates imprecisely the exact meaning of the no party/other category and discounts the ramifications of its voting behavior. For convenience sake, the Secretary of State when reporting data lumps anybody who does not check off a Democrat or Republican affiliation in registering into this category, even though often there is a striking conceptual difference between a minor party registrant, a no-party registrant, and a registrant designated as “other party.”
Minor party registrants, who by the very act of choosing a label out of the mainstream usually do so because they have put a lot of thought into the choice, therefore often are well-informed but highly unpredictable in terms of electoral choice and whether they vote (despite a probable high interest in politics, they may not vote in many elections because they feel the candidates on offer, seldom identifying with their party, do not come close enough to reflecting their views). Again, however, their small numbers make them largely insignificant in any statewide election.
“Other” registrants get that designation because they put down the name of an unrecognized party in the state, likely overwhelmingly “Independent” or some variation thereof. They are a mixed bag; some are highly interested in politics and find the issue preferences they impute to Republican and Democrat labels as wanting, others psychologically see any attachment to a party as bad and by choosing something like “Independent” make as much a statement about their own construct of self as belief in any issue preferences, and still others are interested in politics but truly undecided between the two major parties. This also includes those that don’t think much about politics but do feel they should be registered to vote.
It’s difficult to tell what partisan sympathies this group may have given its composition, but it’s probably a small gain for Republicans. In the period analyzed, if assuming among the three different kinds of voters in this group (again: minor party, other party, no party) the racial distributions are essentially the same, there are 45,000 more whites. And while other race (which from the registration form means Hispanic, Asian, American Indian which presumably includes Pacific Islanders as well, and “other”) registrants have seen their numbers increase 6,000, generally denoting groups that give some advantage to Democrats, the raw numbers indicate a GOP advantage here.
Which may be magnified in that the equal distribution by race of the three groups probably is not so. In fact, non-whites probably disproportionately make up the “no party” designation. This grouping is disproportionately chosen by registrants with little interest in and information known about politics. This is particularly the case in Louisiana, which because of its political culture that emphasizes participation more than in most states and the state policy’s and in some urban areas non-party political organizations’ emphasis on registering individuals, disproportionately gets registered these kinds of individuals relative to other states. They are the least likely to vote, which therefore means in the aggregate for the no party/other column this magnifies the Republican advantage.
Even the only other potential source of cheer for Louisiana Democrats, change in other race registrants for them, comes a cropper. True, they have gained 2,000 of these in the time span – but Republicans have picked up 3,000.
All in all, when reviewing these numbers, the electoral consequences are that a major sea change favoring Republicans at the expense of Democrats has occurred since the last senatorial election. It produces an electorate noticeably different than that of then, and is another reason why Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu cannot be considered a favorite for reelection. And if it is not slowed or stopped immediately, Democrats will rarely if ever win statewide offices of the state or federal kind for decades to come.