Are people leaving the Republican Party?

Some people are, in at least some states, if you go by voter registration data.

In the days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the phone lines and websites of local election officials across the country were jumping: Tens of thousands of Republicans were calling or logging on to switch their party affiliations.

In California, more than 33,000 registered Republicans left the party during the three weeks after the Washington riot. In Pennsylvania, more than 12,000 voters left the G.O.P. in the past month, and more than 10,000 Republicans changed their registration in Arizona.

An analysis of January voting records by The New York Times found that nearly 140,000 Republicans had quit the party in 25 states that had readily available data (19 states do not have registration by party). Voting experts said the data indicated a stronger-than-usual flight from a political party after a presidential election, as well as the potential start of a damaging period for G.O.P. registrations as voters recoil from the Capitol violence and its fallout.


The biggest spikes in Republicans leaving the party came in the days after Jan. 6, especially in California, where there were 1,020 Republican changes on Jan. 5 — and then 3,243 on Jan. 7. In Arizona, there were 233 Republican changes in the first five days of January, and 3,317 in the next week. Most of the Republicans in these states and others switched to unaffiliated status.

Voter rolls often change after presidential elections, when registrations sometimes shift toward the winner’s party or people update their old affiliations to correspond to their current party preferences, often at a department of motor vehicles. Other states remove inactive voters, deceased voters or those who moved out of state from all parties, and lump those people together with voters who changed their own registrations. Of the 25 states surveyed by The Times, Nevada, Kansas, Utah and Oklahoma had combined such voter list maintenance with registration changes, so their overall totals would not be limited to changes that voters made themselves. Other states may have done so, as well, but did not indicate in their public data.

Among Democrats, 79,000 have left the party since early January.

But the tumult at the Capitol, and the historic unpopularity of former President Donald J. Trump, have made for an intensely fluid period in American politics. Many Republicans denounced the pro-Trump forces that rioted on Jan. 6, and 10 Republican House members voted to impeach Mr. Trump. Sizable numbers of Republicans now say they support key elements of President Biden’s stimulus package; typically, the opposing party is wary if not hostile toward the major policy priorities of a new president.

“Since this is such a highly unusual activity, it probably is indicative of a larger undercurrent that’s happening, where there are other people who are likewise thinking that they no longer feel like they’re part of the Republican Party, but they just haven’t contacted election officials to tell them that they might change their party registration,” said Michael P. McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida. “So this is probably a tip of an iceberg.”

But, he cautioned, it could also be the vocal “never Trump” reality simply coming into focus as Republicans finally took the step of changing their registration, even though they hadn’t supported the president and his party since 2016.

A more detailed case against this thesis is made by G. Elliott Morris, who notes that voter registration is not the same as voter behavior – in states where people register by party, they don’t necessarily vote that way – and that at least some of these former Republicans have changed their affiliation because the establishment GOP didn’t support Trump enough following the election and the insurrection. In other words, some number of these folks aren’t any more likely to vote for a Democrat. Finally, the total numbers here are really small in terms of overall voter registration, well less than one percent. In other words, what we have here looks more like a drip than a stream.

On the other hand, the public now has a very low opinion of the Republican Party and a significantly more favorable view of the Democratic Party. Republicans also have issues with corporate donors, which may be a drag on them at least through 2022. And while President Biden’s current approval ratings are extremely polarized, I note that he’s basically the inverse of Trump with independents, getting 60% of approval there where Trump had 40% at this same point in their presidencies. Who knows where any of this will go from here, but right now, you’d rather be on Team Biden than on his opposition.

None of this applies directly to Texas, since of course we don’t register by party. We measure affiliation by primary voting, so we will have much more limited data until whenever we get to have primaries in 2022. That said, the forthcoming special election in CD06, to fill the seat left vacant by the passing of Rep. Ron Wright, may provide a yardstick as well. Trump carried the district in 2020 by a 51-48 margin, basically the same margin by which Ted Cruz carried it in 2018. Rep. Wright won by a more comfortable 53-44, and Trump won it 54-42 in 2016. A Democratic win in what I presume would be a June runoff would surely be a big deal, while a Republican victory would be seen as evidence that nothing much has changed. It’s super early and we have no candidates yet, so hold onto your hot takes for now.

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6 Responses to Are people leaving the Republican Party?

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    I think I can speak for the pro-Trump folks, at least those of us over at We’re all furious with the R Party old timers, like McConnell, who want to push out Trump and his supporters. Sorry, that dog won’t hunt, and I think you’ll see real war in the R primaries in 2022 and beyond.

    Trump has such a dogged, loyal following because he did the things he promised to do, many of them, anyway. He obviously didn’t drain the swamp, and that was his eventual downfall, but don’t think that all of his supporters will forget. As an example, I’ll vote against Cornyn in the primary, but if he wins the primary, I won’t vote for him in the general….no matter WHAT. He’s done, one way or another, and the three sisters, Collins, Murkowski and Romney will also be on the block, as well as Cassidy in Louisiana, and quite a few others. Unfortunately McConnell just won his election, but hopefully there’s a war in 2022 that throws him out as majority/minority leader.

    I always identified as libertarian, now a libertarian leaning populist, but I’ll never ID as Republican after what they did to hamstring the MAGA agenda. When I get their mailings, I’ll send them back with a note…..nothing for those who didn’t support Trump.

  2. David Fagan says:

    And then…….. there was one.

    One effective political party. People who don’t vote Democrat wil still vote Republican, what choice do they have? None.

  3. Manny says:

    They a choice of not voting, a choice that over 25% of Americans choose

  4. David Fagan says:

    That’s why I believe not voting for any candidates should be a choice, then all parties involved would have to start over and the person in office would stay. Odd course this is a general armchair opinion, knowing it won’t really occur.

  5. brad says:

    Thanks Bill:
    “I always identified as libertarian, now a libertarian leaning populist, but I’ll never ID as Republican after what they did to hamstring the MAGA agenda. When I get their mailings, I’ll send them back with a note…..nothing for those who didn’t support Trump.”

    Just send back the GOP mailers and instead send money to the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Brownshirts, QAnon, Bigfoot Hunters who still do support the MAGA agenda/putcsh.

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