A look at political party registration in San Luis Obispo County shows that Democrats are slipping in influence, Republicans are holding steady and the number of people declining to state a preference is on the rise.
Between 2008 and 2014, the percentage of registered Democrats countywide declined by nearly 3 percentage points to 33 percent, according to data from the Clerk-Recorder’s Office. The percentage of registered Republicans declined 0.6 percentage points to 39.4 percent, while those who declined to state a party affiliation increased by nearly 3 percentage points to 21.3 percent.
When the data are mapped across the county’s 163 precincts, they show that much of the county seat — San Luis Obispo — and several coastal cities have more registered Democrats, while huge swaths of the inland areas tilt Republican.
But not all communities match this trend — an area north of Cayucos leans Republican, as does much of the Arroyo Grande and Pismo Beach areas.
Grover Beach, meanwhile, leans left, and one small part of Paso Robles also has more registered Democrats.
San Luis Obispo County has 150,139 registered voters. The Clerk-Recorder’s Office sent out about 95,000 mail-in ballots, and about 39,200, or 41 percent, had been returned as of Friday, county Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald said.
In nonpresidential election years, the overall voter turnout typically is around 60 to 70 percent. In 2010, 69 percent of county voters weighed in.
The overall voter turnout in 2012, the latest presidential election, was nearly 80 percent.
Turnout for the June primary, however, was only 41.5 percent. That’s lower than any other primary or general election in the county as far back as 1980. Only two special elections, in 2009 and 2010, drew a lower turnout.
Information provided by Rodewald shows a significant drop from 2008 to 2014 in party registration for both the Democratic and Republican parties, while other parties, including American Independent and Libertarian, gained more members.
At the same time, overall voter registration in the county dropped, from about 161,256 in October 2008 to 150,139 this past October. There are 202,589 eligible voters in the county, according to the California Secretary of State’s Office.
In 2008, there were 57,885 registered Democrats, 64,541 registered Republicans, and 30,005 who marked “decline to state” (now called “no party preference”).
Six years later, the numbers have changed to 49,692 Democrats, 59,193 Republicans, and 32,085 who decline to state.
In addition, the Green Party lost members during that time, dropping to 1,287 in 2014 from 1,633 in 2008. But party registration for the American Independent Party increased to 4,397 in 2014 from 3,380 in 2008, and the Libertarian Party increased registration to 1,340 in 2014 from 1,008 in 2008.
Michael Latner, an assistant professor of political science at Cal Poly, said the 2008 registration numbers are really an anomaly — it was the first year that both the Democratic and Republican parties, but especially Democrats, were using new technology to aggressively target and register voters.
(Even between the June 2008 primary and the November 2008 election, overall voter registration in the county jumped by 12,640 people, then dipped back down.)
The numbers show a long-term trend of voters moving away from identifying with either of the two parties, Latner said. Some of these voters are younger people who are less loyal to the two-party system, in part because of increased polarization of both parties.
The long-term effect, he said, could result in less predictable elections.
“Increasingly, what we’re seeing is it’s not the Democrats or Republicans deciding elections, but it’s those voters who aren’t strongly affiliated with either party,” Latner said.
The 4th District supervisory race with incumbent Caren Ray facing Lynn Compton will be one of the most interesting races in the county Tuesday, he said.
“Certainly, when you look at the amount of outside money coming into the race, you can see how high the stakes are,” he said.
More information on Tuesday’s election is available on the clerk-recorder’s website at http://www.slocounty.ca.gov/clerk/Elections/ElectionsInfo/110414GeneralElection.htm. Click the “media guide” to see party registration reports for 2010 and 2014.