As actually has occurred now for several decades, partisan dealignment nationally continues with no letup as the two majors parties lose affiliates while those who claim none increase in numbers. Louisiana’s history in this regard illustrates the evolving political culture and trends of the state that differ from the national scene.
Of the 49 states that observe voter registration, four-sevenths require some affirmation of partisan status. And of those 28 states, in 25 Democrat registrations have declined since 2008 and in three-quarters of them Republican registrations have followed the same course. Meanwhile, those not affiliated (often called “independents” but legally in Louisiana known as “no party” registrants) have gone down in only 10.
The last year of the quadrennial election cycle typically has the highest number of registrants while the midterm has the lowest, with a slight increase in the third year such as 2011, so the drop partly is a result of that cyclical dynamic.
Still, the comparison of changes across the three categories clearly shows the dealignment effect. And when investigated at the micro level as with a single state, it also can tells about its changing electoral conditions.
As in Louisiana, where over the past eleven years some tremendous changes have happened. In 2000, at a shade over 950,000, white Democrats comprised well over half of all Democrats, over half of all white voters, more than white Republicans and no party voters combined, and not many fewer than all non-Democrats combined. Add the nearly 800,000 black Democrats, and even a decade ago Democrats constituted a powerful political force although more at the state and local level, as some displayed a dual partisanship that led them to vote regularly for Republicans for national offices.
The latest figures at the end of November of this year paint a much different picture. The number of white voters statewide has increased slightly, while black voters’ numbers have gone up about 10 percent. But the proportion of Democrats has fallen nearly 14 percent in the interim, or nearly 225,000. It would have fallen more without that increase in black registrants, although the majority of the additional entrants did not choose to register as Democrats, as the number of white Democrats has plunged about 29 percent or nearly 275,000.
No and other party registrants have increased around 190,000 or 39 percent since, but Republicans also have benefitted, boosting their numbers 27 percent or close to 164,000. That the combined figure of these two greatly exceeds the total loss by Democrats suggests disproportionately new entrants shy away from Democrats and switching that favors all but Democrats.
A review of annual changes confirms this supposition. White Democrats have lost more than one percent of their numbers every year, with the worst being over a seven percent plunge in 2010. By contrast, Democrats as a whole actually gained registrations twice over that span on the strength of black increases, mysteriously in 2003 and a hearty better than four percent jump in 2008 in response to the historic candidacy of Pres. Barack Obama, while Republicans increased in all but 2002 and 2006 with very small declines then, and with other and no party registrants decreasing only in 2010.
Republicans proved the exception to the midterm drop off in 2010 with a gain of over one percent, and in 2008 gained nearly five percent while, despite this typically being the year of largest changes upwards, no and other party registrant totals barely went higher, Democrats increased just over one percent on the strength of Obama’s candidacy, as white Democrats were off a steep four percent. The apparent deviance of these results is explained by this being the period of closed primaries in federal elections, where those who had been voting for Republicans in blanket primaries now could not, and had to switch their affiliations accordingly. These numbers reinforce the mistake Republican state officeholders made in not only allowing the system to revert back beginning next year, but in championing it, in terms of party-building.
So, in contrast to most states, Louisiana has not experienced unimpeded dealignment but has combined it with realignment away from Democrats towards Republicans. Further, this realignment has occurred markedly and in a discontinuous fashion only in concern with sub-national offices, while the gradual realignment concerning national elections matches the trend of the past fifty years. Why that acceleration occurred stems from the retreat of the populist persuasion, as the contradictions of it have become increasingly more difficult to hide in an era of wider information dissemination that has made more easily linkable the ideology and the issues of national politics with those at the state level.
Expect Louisiana to continue to buck the trend of dealignment dominance, at the national level largely a consequence of legal and social forces empowering candidates at the expense of parties, because candidates already have enjoyed such an advantage historically in the state. Whereas change promotes identification with candidates nationally, in Louisiana the factors bringing congruence of belief to partisanship only now are coming into prominence, to the GOP’s advantage. Unless or until Democrats at the state level differentiate themselves from the national party towards the ideological center, or the national party joins them in that effort, dealignment and realignment will pick away at them until their registrant numbers adhere to their actual voting strength as the state’s minority party.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:30