Florida Voters Shifting To No-Party Label
By Jim Turner - The News Service of Florida // October 21, 2014
But the closing of the party gap comes as the overall numbers of registered Democrats and Republicans are down from 2012 election levels. Meanwhile, there has been an uptick in voters who declare themselves free agents from the major parties and sign up as “no party affiliation.”
Age and negative perceptions that many new voters have of both major parties are credited for the shifts in registration.
“The younger you are, the most likely you are to register as an NPA (no party affiliation),” said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida. “The millennials see themselves as more independent. They have grown up with negative views of both major parties.”
Democrats now account for 38.8 percent of the state’s registered voters, with the GOP at 35 percent and those without a party label at 23.3 percent, according to the latest figures, which reflect voters who registered before the Oct. 6 deadline to be eligible to cast ballots in this fall’s general election.
Two years ago, 40 percent of the state’s registered voters said they were Democrats, Republicans were at 35.6 percent and the unaffiliated designation stood at 21.6 percent.
The numbers continue a trend from the 2010 mid-term election, when Democrats were at 41.3 percent, Republicans 36 percent and the no party label was at 19.5 percent.
Kevin Wagner, an associate professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University, pointed to the constant negative advertising by candidates and political parties that has reinforced a disapproving view “of politics and distrust of government.”
However, Wagner cautioned that there are nuances to the movement of people claiming to be independent voters.
“We have leaners or loosely affiliated voters,” Wagner said. “Sometimes partisan voters like to call themselves independent. So just asking that question can be inaccurate.”
For the upcoming general election, there are 11,931,533 registered voters in Florida, down 2,913 from the 2012 election, which included the presidential race.
Despite massive voter-registration efforts, which are typically stronger in presidential-election cycles, the registered voter numbers naturally have some fluctuation as people die, move or are removed by county supervisors of election for voting inactivity.
The registered voter count for Democrats currently stands at 4,628,178, with Republicans at 4,172,232. Another 2,778,547 Floridians are registered with no party affiliation, which is up 205,646 in the past two years.
The numbers show 153,800 fewer Democrats since the 2012 presidential contest in which President Barack Obama won Florida by less than 1 percentage point, while the Republican ranks have dropped 73,759 in the same time.
“We are well past the point of targeting voters based solely on the letter that is behind their name,” Hepworth said. “We’re looking at more sophisticated ways of targeting people, through micro-targeting data and stuff like that.”
The rest of the voter roll is comprised of 13 minor parties, ranging from the Tea, Green and Libertarian parties, to the Ecology, Florida Socialist Workers and Peace & Freedom parties.
Led by the Independent Party, these parties combined have 352,576 registered voters, which is just under 3 percent of the overall list of voters.
The numbers released Monday by the Division of Elections don’t break down the voter roll by age, sex and ethnic makeup.
The divide among registered voters between the two major parties now stands at 455,946. The gap favored Democrats by 535,987 in 2012 and 591,809 in 2010.
Democrats have an advantage in registered voters in 39 of the state’s 67 counties, including the most-populated counties, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Orange, Pinellas and Duval.
Among those heavily populated counties, the gap between the two major parties is the closest in Pinellas County, where the Democratic edge has been cut from more than 10,000 in 2010 to less than 5,000.
Rural Levy County was the only county where a party lost its numerical advantage among registered voters during the past two years. Republicans in the Gulf Coast county west of Ocala now lead Democrats by 426 voters, from among the county’s 25,877 registered voters. Two years ago, Democrats had the edge by 204 voters.
Levy follows Flagler, Hernando and Gilchrist counties, which all changed from having Democratic advantages to Republican between 2010 and 2012.