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Record High Number of Independent Voters in California

by Damon Eris, published

It is very likely only a matter of time before Independents outnumber Republicans in California. According to the Secretary of State's most recent report on voter registration, Californians are continuing to register as Independents in record numbers.

Just over 17 million people are now registered to vote in the Golden State, over 1 million more than there were four years ago. Of those 17 million, 21.3% now refuse to affiliate with any political party, choosing to register instead with no party preference. That is a new high. The previous record of 21.2% was reported in the last registration report released by the Secretary of State's office roughly three months ago.

Democrats are, of course, the largest partisan bloc of the state's electorate, constituting 43.49% of all registered voters. They are followed by Republicans, who now make up just 30.36% of the state's voters. The American Independent Party remains the largest third party in the state, with nearly half a million registered voters, totaling 2.52% of the total.

The growth in the percentage of Independent voters appears to have come largely at the expense of the Republican party. In 2002, 44.7% of Californians were registered Democrats, 35.3% were Republicans and just 15% had no party affiliation. Thus, over the last ten years, Democratic registration has dipped slightly and registration with the GOP has shown significant decline, while the ranks of Independents have swelled by over a third.

This trend is not likely to change any time soon. With California's new top two primary system, there is even less incentive to register with a political party. Under top two, all candidates for a given office are listed on a single ballot, regardless of their party affiliation, and all voters may cast ballots in all races, regardless of party affiliation. The two candidates who receive the most votes proceed to the general election. Under the old system, Independents were not prohibited from voting in primary elections, but the partisan primary system only allowed voters to cast their ballots for a single party's primary races.

It remains to be seen whether California's growing unaffiliated constituency will express that independence at the ballot box by supporting Independent candidates over the partisans of the major parties and the political status quo.