PICK A PARTY: Voter registration numbers in New Mexico give some Republicans hope but may simply indicate the growth in independents.
By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
SANTA FE, N.M.— Democrats have outnumbered Republicans in New Mexico for generations, but do recent voter registration numbers give the GOP some hope in winning over young voters?
Or is it just a blip?
Or do the numbers simply show that voters in the state are becoming more independent?
A recent study by Research & Polling, a political polling company based in Albuquerque, looked at the party breakdown across the state. The numbers are open to varying degrees of interpretation.
For example, Democrats continue their stranglehold on registration numbers.
They hold a double-digit advantage over Republicans in every age category, topping out with an 18-point edge — 53 percent to 35 percent — among voters 65 and older.
But the narrowest margin is found among the youngest voters, with Democrats’ lead on the GOP among those between 18-24 dipping to 11 percent. Here are the pie charts published in the Albuquerque Journal:
On Tuesday, the New York Times published a column headlined, “Why Teenagers Today May Grow Up Conservative.” While young people tend to vote for Democrats, columnist David Leonhardt points out that 18-year-olds eligible to vote in the 2016 presidential election will have been born in 1998.
“They are too young to remember much about the (George W.) Bush years or the excitement surrounding the first Obama presidential campaign,” Leonhardt said. “They instead are coming of age with a Democratic president who often seems unable to fix the world’s problems.”
“We’re in a period in which the federal government is simply not performing,” added Paul Taylor of the Pew Research Center, who just published a book on generational politics, “and that can’t be good for the Democrats.”
Does that add up to an opportunity for the New Mexico GOP? Maybe, maybe not.
Brian Sanderoff, president of Research and Polling, said, “One can look at these numbers in different ways.”
After all, if you’re a Democrat, the numbers confirm the party’s advantage over Republicans, and with the Hispanic population — which tends to vote for Democrats — growing, Republicans may be in for a tough demographic challenge.
But Sanderoff points out another way to interpret the numbers: Namely, the rapid growth of voters in New Mexico who don’t identify with either of the major parties.
Sanderoff shared with New Mexico Watchdog a chart showing how the number of voters registering as “decline to state” — or with parties besides Democrats and Republicans — has tripled since 1982:
Even here there’s news Democrat or Republican loyalists can latch onto.
“As the numbers of independents grow, they take more from the Ds than the Rs,” Sanderoff said, pointing out that 63 percent of New Mexico voters were registered Democrats in 1982; that number dropped to 46.9 percent this year.
Yet at the same time Research & Polling has also produced data showing that among voters age 37 and younger, there are actually more DTS (decline to state)/other voters registered in New Mexico than total Republicans:
So maybe the news isn’t very good for either party.
“Ultimately, the hope for either party is to have leadership that will resonate and turn on young folks,” Sanderoff said. “You saw that for a couple of years where Obama turned them on in 2008 and 2009. You can actually see a blip in the data where Democrats actually stopped declining, but you see where in the midterm election it just dropped off again … I think it’s going to take a sea change before either the Democrats or the Republicans cut into the declines that have actually been occurring.”
Contact Rob Nikolewski at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski