August 18, 2008

More R.I. Voters Register As Democrats

By Scott MacKay

The party posts a 5.6-percent gain while the number of Republicans increases by 0.8 percent and the number of independents declines 5.3 percent.

PROVIDENCE -- As is the case throughout the country, Rhode Island voters signing up to cast ballots in the fall elections are turning increasingly to the Democratic Party.

Since the September 2006 primary election, Democratic voter registration has jumped by 5.6 percent, the GOP rolls have increased by 0.8 percent and the number of independents, labeled "unaffiliated" in Rhode Island political argot, has dropped by 5.3 percent.

"My hunch is that a lot of this is new voter registrations," says Maureen Moakley, political science professor at the University of Rhode Island. "The move to the Democrats in Rhode Island seems consistent with what is happening nationally. Rhode Island seems to be fitting a national pattern."

According to the Rhode Island secretary of state's office, 682,356 voters statewide are eligible for the September primaries. That is up from 673,662 in 2006. The office does not have accurate records on party affiliations before 2006, says Chris Barnett, office spokesman.

At this point, nobody knows what the implications are for the presidential election, but a recent New York Times study showed that since 2005 there has been a reduction in the number of voters who register with the Republican Party and a rise in those who affiliate with the Democratic Party.

Rhode Island is a solidly Democratic foundation state in presidential elections; the last time a majority of state voters favored a Republican was in 1984, when incumbent Republican Ronald Reagan bested Democrat Walter Mondale in a close election.

Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate at American University, in Washington, D.C., cautions against putting too much emphasis on registration statistics. Such data can differ from state to state because of differing systems of election administration. For example, some states are more vigilant than others in purging the voter rolls of voters who die or move away.

Rhode Island's rolls have become more accurate in recent elections as computers and modern technology have been used to track voters who die, leave the state or move from one Rhode Island community to another.

Yet, Gans said, the movement to the Democrats should not be viewed as a surprise. With public opinion data showing that more than 80 percent of U.S. voters think the country is headed in the wrong direction, "common sense would say that the Republicans will lose registrations to the Democrats, and in some jurisdictions, independents."

Democratic State Chairman William Lynch said he was pleased with the new voter data and the trend towards his party.

"I think a lot of this has to do frankly with the Obama candidacy and the excitement he has generated," Lynch said. "I think this is an area where there is a good indication that a lot of young people are part of this trend."








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Originally published by Scott MacKay, Journal Staff Writer.

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