August 16, 2016

NM voters moving towards political parties in election year

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The months leading up to the general election show an increasing number of voters in New Mexico aligning themselves with a political party in the state rather than registering as independents.

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Democrats account for roughly half of registered voters, according to data from the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office. The other half splits among Republicans, minor parties and those who decline to state an affiliation.

But since January the number of registered Democrats spiked by about five percentage points and the number of registered Republicans increased by roughly 4 percentage points. Minor parties also saw an increase in voter registration since the beginning of the year.

Only independents, who in the state’s terms “decline to state” an affiliation, saw their numbers go down in that short time.

It’s a contrast to recent longer-term trends that saw decline-to-state voters grow.

Sarah Silva, executive director of New Mexico Comunidades en Acción y de Fé (CAFé), a nonpartisan advocacy group, told NM Political Report that her group has seen much more engagement from voters this year than usual.

“More people are talking about the election much, much sooner,” Silva said.

CAFé works around the state advocating for higher wages for workers and immigration reform, but also helps register voters.

Silva said she can’t point to a nexus.

“This is the one year that people are choosing a party,” Silva said.

While the overall percentages for voter data have remained the same, the raw numbers are shifting towards a trend of affiliation.

In January, more than 550,000 were registered as Democrats compared to about 370,000 registered Republicans. Between then and July, registered Democrats grew by 30,000 voters  and registered Republicans grew by 20,000 voters.

People who registered as decline to state, however, dropped by roughly 3,000 voters, between that same time-frame.

Joe Kabourek, executive director of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, credits Democratic primary candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, combined with voter outreach, for the party’s increase.

He added that Donald Trump may have played a part in more voters turning to the Democratic party.

“Our candidates ran strong campaigns,” Kabourek said. “They were both the adults in the room.”

NM Political Report reached out to the state Republican Party for comment. We’ll update this post once we receive a response from them.

Lonna Atkeson, a political scientist at the University of New Mexico, cautioned that the numbers from January through July are only a small pieces of the bigger picture.

“We can see that we’ve gotten slightly more Democratic,” Atkeson said. “But no more than last election.”

Atkeson pointed out that the overall percentage of registered Democrats and Republicans across the state stayed relatively constant.

In April 2015, 47 percent of New Mexicans were registered as Democrats and 31 percent were Republicans. Roughly 19 were registered as decline to state while 3 percent of New Mexicans were registered under minor parties.

Voting data from this July, in contrast shows almost no change in those percentages except for decline to state voters dropping by one percent.

Hillary Clinton is favored in New Mexico over Donald Trump by nearly 10 points, according to a Public Policy Poll commissioned by NM Political Report—the only general election presidential poll conducted in New Mexico so far.

Regardless, Atkeson said it’s hard to see an accurate trend without looking at multiple years. She’s also hesitant to say New Mexico is leaning heavily Democratic.

“This is not a blue state,” Atkeson said. “You can’t look at a Republican governor and a Republican legislature and say this a blue state.”

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