Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Indie voters have growing clout in California elections

Both Democrats and Republicans have a lost their share of California registered voters, who increasingly choose no party preference.
Both Democrats and Republicans have a lost their share of California registered voters, who increasingly choose no party preference.
Rebecca Hill/KPCC

The two major political parties still dominate California voter registration rolls, but more voters are going independent according to a new report from Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

Among registered voters,  43.6 percent are Democratic and 28.7 percent Republican. However both parties lost a share of the California voting public since the 2010 general election. Some  20.94 percent of voters now state no party preference, up from 20.18 percent in 2010.

Several factors feed the indie registration trend. California's new top-two primary system lets voters of any party cast ballots for any candidate, making party affiliation less of an obstacle to casting votes in primaries.

Beginning in  2012, voters could register to vote online, making it easy to decline to state a party preference, and more than a half-million people signed up in the first month. Voter registrations were previously collected by paid and volunteer party workers and via mail-in registration forms available at government offices.

Also, studies of California's large immigrant population shows that many choose nonpartisan registration when they become eligible to vote.

The share of nonpartisan voters is highest in San Francisco County, with 30.5 percent of registrations.

Los Angeles County is bucking the nonpartisan trend, but it's not clear why. Just 17.4 percent were nonpartisan voters, which is down from the 2010 general election when 20.6 percent declined to state a party.

At the same time, parties that fall into the category of "other"  (which excludes American Independent, Green, Libertarian and Peace and Freedom parties) captured 6.56 percent of the county's voters, a big bump up from  2010, when "other" parties got less than 1 percent of registrations in Los Angeles County.

Although its raw numbers have continually risen over the decades with population growth, the Democratic Party now claims barely half of Los Angeles County's voters — 50.77 percent. The percentage of Democratic voters in the county has fallen each decade since 1990, when it was 54.6 percent. Los Angeles County is eighth among the top 10 most Democratic counties in the state.

The Republican Party has seen losses in both raw numbers of voters and percentages over the decades. Now at 21.2 percent of L.A. County voters, the local GOP is far below the 35.4 percent popularity it had in 1990.

Orange County, often seen as a stronghold of Republican support, had 41.3 percent Republican registration, not enough to put it in California's top ten most-Republican counties. Democratic voters represent 31.6 percent of voters there.

Orange County has 22.7 percent non-partisan voters, a higher percentage than L.A. County. Riverside County has 18.3 percent who don't state a party preference and San Bernardino County 21.2 percent.

Americans Elect won recognition as a political party in California in 2011 after submitting more than one million petition signatures to the Secretary of State's office. It now has 3,482 members and 0.02 percent of the state's voters. They join longer-recognized groups such as the Green, Libertarian, Peace and Freedom and American Independent parties that have enough supporters to appear on state ballots with their own candidates.

The Tea Party considers itself a movement and has not sought recognition as a political party. 

As Californians increasingly ditch party labels, new groups arise seeking official party status, such as the Reform Party of California, the Justice Party and the Constitution Party. Some have less serious names: California Pirate Party, the No Corporate Money Party, the Good Party and the We Like Women Political Party.