Third Party Registration in California on the Rise

In 2010, California voters passed Proposition 14, which converted elections for the state Legislature to a nonpartisan, top-two primary system. Under a top-two system, the same ballot is distributed to all voters featuring each recognized candidate. The top two vote getters advance to the general election. This allows all voters to select their preferred candidate, regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof.

During the measure’s implementation in 2012, there was a noticeable increase in third party registration. According to the California Secretary of State’s statistics, the percentage of registered voters who identified with a third party was 4.7 percent in 2011.

In 2012, that number jumped to 5.3 percent, the highest it had been since the early 2000s. The increase continued into 2013, with the most recent statistics placing third party registration at 6.3 percent.

These ‘third’ parties include the American Independent Party, the Green Party, the Peace and Freedom Party, Americans Elect, and the Libertarian Party.

During that same period of time (2012-2013), the level of voters choosing not to identify with a party remained fairly constant at 20.9 percent. Given speculation that Proposition 14 would hinder minor parties, this seems somewhat contradictory.

Non-affiliated voters can vote for anyone they choose without regard to party, but a third party candidate is not guaranteed access to the general election ballot unless they are one of the top two vote getters. While Proposition 14 may have preceded the increased interest in third parties, it likely wasn’t the cause.

A Gallup poll released in 2012 reported a notable increase in independent registration nationally from 2010 to 2011 that corresponded neatly with a significant decrease in those who identified as Republicans. The shift could be attributable to sagging approval ratings for national Republican leadership and the Republican Party in general.

The increase in third party registration among Californians in 2012 and 2013 seems to come at the expense of Republican registration, which correlates with the continued decline of Republican approval ratings since 2011. Likewise,

As of now, the true impact of the top-two primary system on voter registration is difficult to determine. The measure has only been in effect for one election cycle thus far and the most recent statistics are from a non-election year.

Additional studies conducted over the next several years would be required to draw definitive conclusions. Though, based on the evidence, it’s fair to say that proposition 14 may not have helped third party registration directly, but it certainly didn’t hinder it.