A new report about the 17.2 million Californians registered to vote finds some recent trends show no signs of slowing down -- especially the inclination of voters to detach from political parties, and the declining party power of Republicans.
Friday afternoon's report by Secretary of State Debra Bowen shows almost 72.6 percent of eligible Californians have registered to vote. Not only is that a noticeable uptick from this same time in 2008 -- where ultimate voter turnout was a whopping 79.42 percent -- but it's the largest registration percentage for any 60-day pre-election report in a presidential year since 1996.
"As Californians hear more about the important issues on the November ballot and as we approach the October 22 deadline to register, those numbers will continue to go up," said Bowen in a released statement.
Compared to September 2008, California is also home now to a larger percentage of independent voters, those who state "no party preference" on their registration cards. In 2008, that accounted for 19.5 percent; now, it's 21.3 percent.
That's not to say those voters don't ultimately align one way or the other, but it does seem to show less of a true believer.
(State officials have a helpful PDF of some of the more interesting historical stats.)
But while both parties have seen their percentage of the electorate shrink since 2008, the most noticeable slide has been for the California Republican Party -- a trend that seems to have accelerated in recent years.
Republicans now account for only 30.1 percent of the electorate, a dramatic shrinking of GOP power compared to 2008 (32.3 percent), 2004 (35 percent), and 1996 (36.8 percent).
Democrats, meantime, have hovered around the 43 percent mark for most of the past decade, though were 46.9 percent of the electorate in 1996.
The real decline in GOP presence and power, though, can be seen in the historical data from California's 58 counties. As of now, Republicans can point to only one county in the state where they represent a majority: tiny Modoc County, home to only 5,608 voters. In fact, even the counties where the GOP holds a plurality of voters are generally small in population. In years past, while the party also struggled with getting majority support in big counties, there were more population centers in play.
Take Orange County, for example, a place near and dear to Republican hearts. In September 2000, 49 percent of its voters were in the GOP column. But in the years since, Republicans haven't kept pace with the other parties and voter groups. Now, they represent only 42 percent of the county's voters. That may not seem like a huge drop, but keep in mind that each percentage point of voters in an urban county is worth a lot more than those in rural areas.
Democrats, meantime, are currently the majority party in nine counties, including vote-rich Los Angeles County. And their influence no doubt extends much further. San Francisco is the top county in California for percentage of independent voters (30.98 percent), but it's not hard to guess which of the major parties those voters pick when forced.
Even with news that the percentage of eligible voters who are actually registered has gone up, what really is intriguing is who those Californians are that are eligible... but not registered? That's a group of people now totaling more than 6.5 million -- people who are disengaged from the governance of the state, and who could easily swing some important elections if they ever choose to cast a vote.