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California's fastest-growing political party is: Neither

January 15, 2008 |  7:56 am

Here's a startling new political reality in California: Both the Democratic and Republican parties are losing market share.

The Times' inveterate digger Dan Morain has been exploring the state's political party registration figures and has found that the two main parties -- the Republicans and Democrats -- are steadily dwindling as shares of the broader electorate. The fastest-growing share of state voters is actually:  Decline to State.

Both Barack Obama and Ron Paul have already launched their political advertising in California. As this year's crop of presidential candidates begins ...

to focus even more on the Golden State, which has the richest lode of electoral votes, in advance of the Feb. 5 primary, the political implications of this social trend become clearer.

In 2000, registered voters who did not state a party preference accounted for less than 14% of the California electorate. Back then, Democrats accounted for 45% of the electorate and the Republicans 35%.

Today, nearly 20% -- one out of five -- members of the California electorate, or almost 3 million voters, decline to state a party preference. For whatever reason -- and we can guess a few that start with excessive partisanship and gridlock -- the Democratic and Republican parties are becoming a smaller part of the total electorate.

Democrats still hold a proportional registration edge over Republicans, 42.5% to 33.8%. But there are actually 85,000 fewer registered Democrats in California today than there were eight years ago, despite the population growth.

Under party rules, however, Democrats stand a better chance than Republicans of wooing the Decline to State segment to vote in their primaries, at least occasionally. The reason: Democrats permit Decline to State voters to maintain their nonaffiliated status but still request a Democratic ballot allowing them to vote in that party's primaries.

Not so with the Republicans. Decline to State voters cannot vote in the Republican primary without affirmatively switching their official affiliation to the GOP -- something relatively few seem willing to do. The party's thinking is that only registered Republicans should have a vote in choosing the Republican nominee. But political experts believe that position could hurt the Republican nominee come November.

It seems that voters who choose sides in the primary tend to stick with that party choice in the general election come November.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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