NDN Blog

Voter Rolls Forecast Bad News for Conservatives

I wrote last week of the youth vote and voter registration patterns in Connecticut, predicting that the striking increases in Democratic registrations nationwide would impact not only the presidential race but also the rest of the ballot this November. Jennifer Steinhauer wrote on the same theme in Monday’s New York Times. The change is substantial; buried in the article is its long-term significance:

Swings in party registration are not uncommon from one year to the next, or even over two years[…] But for a shift away from one party to sustain itself — the current registration trend is now in its fourth year — is remarkable, researchers who study voting patterns say.

Since 2005, the number of voters registering with the Republican party has decreased while the numbers of Democrat-affiliating voters and unaffiliated voters have increased. Of the 29 states that register voters with a party affiliation, over half have seen an increase in share of the population identifying as Democrat. NDN has been making this case -- on these terms -- for quite a while now. In fact, my favorite part of the article was when Steinhauer reinforced NDN’s argument that the country’s shift to a more Millennial and more Hispanic demography favors progressives:

In many states, Democrats have benefited from a rise in younger potential voters, after declines or small increases in the number of those voters in the 1980s and ’90s. The population of 18- to 24-year-olds rose from about 27 million in 2000 to nearly 30 million in 2006, according to Census figures.

Dowell Myers, a professor of policy,planning and development at the University of Southern California, also noted that a younger, native-born generation of Latinos who have a tendency to support Democrats is coming of age.

Further, young Americans have migrated in recent years to high-growth states that have traditionally been dominated by Republicans, like Arizona, Colorado and Nevada, which may have had an impact on the changing registration numbers in those places.

Let’s take a look at what NDN has been saying.

First, we’ve noted that the Millennial generation has consistently displayed progressive values and has voted more heavily Democratic than other generations in their first few elections. New Politics Institute friends and collaborators Morley Winograd and Michael Hais argue that the Millennial generation represents a fundamental shift in American politics, a prediction reflected in these registration statistics, in their book Millennial Makeover. Moreover, in their NPI paper Progressive Politics of the Millennial Generation, they observed the striking disparity between Republican and Democratic Party identification among Millennials.

Secondly, NDN has been on the forefront of understanding how America's Latino population is changing American politics. Andres has been following Latino preferences for the presidential race consistently on our blog. (For full coverage, see McCain has a Latino Problem, Gallup Poll Finds Obama Continues Leading McCain Among Hispanics, and McCain struggling with Hispanics.) As early as March, invoking data from our major report Hispanics Rising II, Andres wrote:

The findings of our research confirm trends in the Hispanic community that we saw emerge in 2006 – Hispanics are trending very Democratic and voting in much higher numbers. So far this year, 78% of Hispanics who have voted in Presidential election contests have voted Democratic. In those states where Hispanics are tracked, results have shown a dramatic increase in their share of the overall vote, skyrocketing 67%, from 9% of the overall vote in 2004 to 15% in 2008.

Steinhauer even cites evidence for NDN’s argument that progressives can succeed in taking their case to exurbs. In 2006, NDN argued that the increasing diversification of the exurbs would challenge their trend of conservativism.

In many major metropolitan areas, suburbs that were once largely white and Republican have become more mixed, as people living in cities have been priced out into surrounding areas, and exurban regions have absorbed those residents who once favored the close-in suburbs of cities.

These changes in voter registration patterns forecast what could happen this fall. The New York Times included a handy graphic that's worth checking out. Observe that among the seven states experiencing the most dramatic increases in the Democratically-affiliated share of voters, two are states which voted Republican in 2004 – two of 2008’s top swing states – Iowa and Nevada. Also note that perennial swing states Pennsylvania and New Hampshire made the list.

How is it playing out already? Democrats’ 2006 state-level victories in Colorado, Iowa, and New Hampshire may forecast additional gains in states NDN sees as highly competitive this fall. I thought also of freshmen Senators like Claire McCaskill (MO) and Jim Webb (VA), potential bellwethers for November’s Electoral College map. These voter registration numbers are more in a series of indications that conservative ascendancy has ended and a political shift is underway.

All I'm sayin' is that you heard it here.

Millennials, Suit Up

Since the snowy surprises of Iowa and New Hampshire - in which a tripling and doubling of youth voter turnout, respectively, turned many heads - the press has done an awkward dance with the youth vote, struggling to pick a narrative that adheres to the conventional wisdom of youth-as-disengaged or alternative of the "Millennial Makeover," as NDN friends Morley Winograd and Michael Hais call it. As coverage has moved to emphasizing the roles of Latinos and economically-hurting voters, excitement about the youth vote has waned a bit. I was reminded this weekend, however, by some great press coverage that hit close to home - literally.

First, Friday's numbers from Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz in my home state of Connecticut confirmed NDN's argument that the Millennial Generation will be a remarkable boon for progressives going forward. While the youth vote was "decisive" in the Connecticut primary and reflected a surge of interest in that competitive race, the excitement has continued well beyond February. Since May, the number of newly registered voters nearly matches the increase before the primary - and among 18-29-year-olds there have been 4.3 Democrats for every one Republican.

As will be emblemized elsewhere across the country, the amplified youth turnout could be especially important in Connecticut's toss-up Fourth District race between New England's lone Republican, U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, and his Democratic challenger Jim Himes. Shays won close races to Diane Farrell in 2004 and 2006 but new registrations fueled by young people more than double the margin by which Farrell lost in 2006 and reflect the impact of Obama, the most Millennial-friendly candidate in to date, is already having at the top of the ticket. Further, Himes is an internationally-raised Spanish speaker who left his VP spot at Goldman-Sachs to work as a non-profit exec in affordable housing - a not-quite-Millennial who speaks the civic notes that appeal to the internationally-focused and civically-minded Millennial Generation (see Melissa's recent blog post). Himes's campaign manager, Maura Kearney, entered politics during the new media explosion of the Lamont campaign. The Himes people, it seems, get it.

So what does Republican State Chairman Chris Healy have to say about the new voters and potential for swinging the Fourth?

Healy said that new voter registrations do not always lead to voter turnout.

"Just because you suit up, it doesn't mean you'll show up," he said.

I know that I, and many of my peers from all over, are suited up and ready to play hardball this fall. As EJ Dionne argued in Friday's Washington Post, the conventional wisdom on the youth vote has lagged behind 2008's remarkable evidence to the contrary. Dionne predicts this will be "the year the youth vote arrives" and believes that the youth vote can "make a difference in Barack Obama's favor." I argue that the youth vote will make a difference for more than just Obama this November; expect it will impact nail-biter down-ticket races like CT-04 as well.

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