Bad sign for Democrats as more than 1 million voters switch to GOP

WASHINGTON — Political change is beginning to take hold in the United States as tens of thousands of suburban voters who helped fuel the Democratic Party’s gains in recent years become Republicans.

More than one million voters in 43 states switched to the Republican Party in the past year, according to voter registration data analyzed by The Associated Press. The previously unreported number reflects a phenomenon unfolding in virtually every region of the country — Democratic and Republican states as well as cities and towns — since President Joe Biden replaced the old President Donald Trump.

But nowhere is the shift more pronounced — and dangerous for Democrats — than in the suburbs, where well-educated swing voters who have turned against Trump’s Republican Party in recent years appear to be backing off. Over the past year, many more people have moved to the GOP in suburban counties from Denver to Atlanta and Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Republicans also gained ground in counties around midsize cities such as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Raleigh, North Carolina; Augusta, Georgia; and Des Moines, Iowa.

Ben Smith, who lives in the suburb of Larimer County, Colorado, north of Denver, said he reluctantly registered as a Republican earlier in the year after increasingly more concerned about Democrats’ support in some locales for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines, the party’s failure to crack down on violent crime, and their frequent focus on racial justice.

“It’s more about rejecting the left than embracing the right,” said Smith, a 37-year-old professional adviser whose transition away from the Democratic Party began five or six years ago when he registered as a libertarian.

The AP looked at nearly 1.7 million voters who likely changed affiliation in 42 states for which there is data over the past 12 months, according to L2, a political data firm. L2 uses a combination of state voter records and statistical modeling to determine party affiliation. While party switching isn’t uncommon, the data shows a clear reversal from when Trump was in office, when Democrats enjoyed a slight advantage in the number of party changers nationwide. .

But over the past year, about two-thirds of the 1.7 million voters who switched party affiliations went to the Republican Party. In total, more than one million people became Republicans compared to about 630,000 who became Democrats.

The broad migration of more than a million voters, a small portion of the overall U.S. electorate, does not guarantee widespread Republican success in November’s midterm elections, which will determine control of Congress and dozens of governorates. . Democrats hope Friday’s Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will energize supporters, especially in the suburbs, ahead of the midterms.

Still, the party-changing details present a stark warning to Democrats who were already concerned about the macro effects shaping the political landscape this fall.

About four months before Election Day, Democrats lack a clear strategy to address Biden’s low popularity and overwhelming voter fear that the country is heading in the wrong direction with their party in power. And while Republicans have offered few policy solutions of their own, the GOP has worked effectively to capitalize on Democrats’ shortcomings.

Republicans took advantage last year as suburban parents grew increasingly frustrated with prolonged pandemic-related school closures. And as inflation escalated more recently, the Republican National Committee held voter registration events at gas stations in suburban areas of swing states like Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania to tying the Biden administration to record gas prices. The GOP has also linked the Democratic president to an ongoing formula shortage.

“Biden and the Democrats are woefully out of touch with the American people, and that’s why voters are flocking to the Republican Party in droves,” RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told the AP. She predicted that “America’s suburbs will be on a red streak for cycles to come” due to “Biden’s gas price hike, the open borders crisis, formula shortages and rising food prices.” crime”.

The Democratic National Committee declined to comment when asked about the recent surge in voters switching to the GOP.

And while Republican officials are quick to take credit for the change, the phenomenon gained momentum shortly after Trump’s departure from the White House. Yet the specific reason(s) for the change remain unclear.

At least some of the newly registered Republicans are actually Democrats who voted against Trump-backed candidates in the GOP primaries. Those voters will likely vote for the Democrats again in November.

But the scope and scale of the party change suggests something much bigger at play.

Over the past year, nearly every state — even those without top-tier Republican primaries — has moved in the same direction as voters in the thousands have gone Republican. Only Virginia, which held an off-year election in 2021, has seen Democrats rise significantly over the past year. But even there, Democrats were wiped out in last fall’s national election.

In Iowa, Democrats used to hold the party-changing advantage by a 2-to-1 margin. That was reversed from last year, with Republicans ahead by a similar amount. The same dramatic change is playing out in Ohio.

In Florida, Republicans captured 58% of people switching parties in the final years of the Trump era. Now, in the last year, they order 70%. And in Pennsylvania, Republicans went from 58% to 63% of party changers.

The Republicans’ current advantage among party-changers is playing out with particular ferocity in the country’s suburbs.

The AP found that the Republican advantage was greater in suburban “outer” counties, based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifications, compared to smaller cities and counties. Republicans have increased their share of party changers in 168 of 235 suburban counties surveyed by AP — 72% — in the past year, compared with the final years of the Trump era.

These included suburban counties across Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Ohio, Virginia, and Washington State.

Republicans also gained ground in more outlying suburban counties, which the CDC groups together with mid-size cities and calls “mid-metro” — more than 62% of those counties, 164 in total, saw Republican growth. They range from suburban counties north of Denver, like Larimer, to those in the Los Angeles area like Ventura and Santa Barbara in California.

The Republican advantage was nearly universal, but it was stronger in some places than others.

For example, in Lorain County, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland, nearly all of the party changes last year went Republican. That’s even when Democrats captured three-quarters of those party changes in the same county at the end of the Trump era.

Some conservative leaders worry that suburban GOP gains will be limited if Republicans don’t do a better job of telling suburban voters what they stand for — instead of what they oppose.

Emily Seidel, who heads the Koch-backed grassroots organization Americans for Prosperity, said her network is seeing first-hand suburban voters distancing themselves from Democrats who represent “extreme political positions.”

“But that doesn’t mean they’re willing to vote against these lawmakers either. Frankly, they are skeptical of the two options they have,” Seidel said. “The lesson here: Candidates have to make their case, they have to give voters something to be for, not just something against what.”

Back in Larimer County, Colorado, 39-year-old housewife Jessica Kroells says she can no longer vote for Democrats, despite being a reliable Democratic voter until 2016.

There wasn’t a single “aha moment” that convinced her to change, but in 2020 she said the Democratic Party had “left me behind.”

“The party itself is no longer Democratic, it’s progressive socialism,” she said, specifically condemning Biden’s plan to eliminate billions of dollars in student debt.

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