By John McCormick
Democrats hold the registration advantage over Republicans in four of six battleground states that will play a key role in the presidential election, even as Republicans and independents have recorded larger net gains since late 2008, data compiled by Bloomberg shows.
Democrats have the edge over Republicans in Florida, Iowa, Nevada and North Carolina. In Colorado and New Hampshire, Republicans outnumber Democrats, according to the analysis of state data. Three other battlegrounds — Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin — don’t report registration statistics by party.
“We have largely preserved the huge gains we built in 2007 and 2008 and increased our advantage in some areas, out- registering Republicans in every single battleground state in each of the past three months,” said Adam Fetcher, a spokesman for President Obama’s re-election campaign.
The number of people signing up as independents is growing faster than those for either party as national polls show dissatisfaction with both sides.
Independent voters collectively grew by about 764,000 in the six states reviewed. Republicans have added almost 195,000 voters in those states since the 2008 presidential election — boosted in part by a competitive primary campaign this year in which Mitt Romney emerged as the nominee — while Democrats saw a net decline of about 258,000.
Rich Beeson, Romney’s political director, said Bloomberg’s findings are “further confirmation” that voters are eager to make a change in the White House.
Voter registration is taking on greater urgency for both Obama and Romney as they seek to sign up supporters ahead of a series of state deadlines this month, including those that expired this week in Florida, Ohio and Colorado and on Friday in North Carolina.
Democrats have traditionally placed greater emphasis on expanding the electorate through registration because many of their supporters, including students and minorities, have a lower rate of registration and are more geographically mobile, meaning they need to update address information.
“A large number of voters register in the final days, and we know from current data and past experience that the Democratic advantage is increasing every single week in every battleground state,” Fetcher said.
Beeson said in a statement that Obama’s campaign “is seeing the intensity and excitement of 2008 evaporate in the reality of a $16 trillion debt, runaway spending and a stagnant economy.”
Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor who studies party affiliation and voting behavior at Emory University in Atlanta, said Democrats registered so many new voters amid a historic election four years ago that it’s been difficult to generate that same level of excitement.
“The last presidential election in 2008 was sort of a high point for the Democrats in some of these states and they have fallen back some since then,” he said.
The growth of independent voters is adding more volatility to U.S. elections, as evidenced by wide swings in their support for Democrats and Republicans in recent elections that determined control of the House. In 2006, independents backed Democrats by an 18-percentage-point margin nationwide, giving the party a House majority for the first time since 1994. Just four years later, they backed Republicans over Democrats in House races by a 19-point margin as control of the chamber again changed hands.
In 2008, when independents represented 29 percent of the total electorate, Obama won 52 percent of their vote on his way to the White House, according to national exit polls. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, that year’s Republican nominee, collected 44 percent.
Abramowitz cautioned against putting too much weight on the growth of independents, saying most, when pressed, more closely relate to one of the two major parties.
“They don’t want to register as a Republican or Democrat for some reason, but if you talk to them or look at their attitudes, most of them are clearly not independents,” he said.
Polls are a better predictor of the election’s outcome because not all registered voters cast a ballot and people routinely vote across party lines, Abramowitz said.
Higher voter registration also doesn’t automatically translate to higher turnout. In the 1996 presidential election, registration went up and turnout down, while the opposite happened four years later with higher turnout amid lower registration, according to American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate in Washington.
The registration statistics also should be treated with some skepticism, the center says, because some states do a better job than others of purging the names of people who have died or moved away.
Republican efforts to register voters in some battleground states were stymied late last month after party officials in Florida, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia fired a company contracted to register additional voters for the party. The action came after Florida officials started an investigation into alleged voter fraud involving the company.
Both the president and first lady Michelle Obama have used their Twitter accounts in recent days to encourage registration, while Romney and the Republican National Committee are using Facebook and other social networking applications to prod his supporters to get registered.
New voters, especially among minority and youth populations, helped Obama win four years ago and his re-election effort is actively recruiting voters, especially in Hispanic and black neighborhoods where the incumbent is more popular. Increased voter turnout typically bodes well for Democrats, who tend to make it to the polls less reliably than Republicans.
The data compiled by Bloomberg included both active and inactive voters in the states where that distinction was made in the data because some states don’t provide such a breakdown and because inactive voters can be quickly restored to active status. It used the most current data available, which ranged from August to early October.
By John McCormick
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