Have Voter Registration Drives Paid Off the The Democrats?
Political consultant James Carville is famously skeptical of appealing to new voters: "You know what they call a candidate who's counting on a lot of new voters? A loser
." He's basically right.
Polling figures suggest that this year's massive voter registration drive will likely increase increased Kerry's margin by a percentage point or two. Nothing to sniff at, but still relatively modest. Let's go through the calculations.
Voter registration rates have increased by 5.3 percentage points over the rate four years ago, comparing Pew surveys
from October 2000 to October of this year. A total of 82.4 percent of American adults are now registered. If the newly registered vote at the same rate as others, 6.5% of all voters will be new registrants (5.3/82.4).
The Pew figures may be low. At the beginning of the month, an ABC poll
reported bigger registration gains than Pew. More recently, Gallup reported an 11 percentage point
gain in registration, compared to four years ago. Both surveys have much smaller sample sizes than the Pew figures cited above though.
Polling data on registration rates have one major advantage over the numbers reported by state election boards that have been widely reported: they avoid double-counting. Many state election boards are slow to purge non-voters, so many remain on the rolls long after they've died or moved. I'm pretty sure that I'm still registered at every address I ever lived at in New York state. And reported figures make no distinction between new registrations and people who are just re-registering after a move.
The poll figures don't provide a partisan breakdown, but some recent surveys suggest that new voters are strongly pro-Kerry, by a margin of 59-40 (Gallup
) or 60-35 (Ipsos
). Combining the Pew figures on new registrants with the new voter polls suggests a net gain of 1.3 points for Kerry (5.3% of the 25 point Ipsos lead), or perhaps 1.0 points (Gallup). If the Gallup registration gain of 11 ponts is right, these figures would double.
So, Democratic gains from voter registration drives are relatively modest. For one thing, much of the gain is presumably just offsetting new voters signed up by the Republicans. Still, every little bit counts: the election could easily be decided by a percentage point or two.
Click on "####" for the table.
End Date of Poll Adults RV %RV
---------------- ------ ----- ----
28-Jun-00 2,174 1,673 77.0
23-Jul-00 1,204 918 76.2
10-Sep-00 2,799 1,999 71.4
8-Oct-00 1,331 1,009 75.8
22-Oct-00 1,263 997 78.9
29-Oct-00 1,963 1,508 76.8
5-Nov-00 2,254 1,829 81.1
TOTAL 12,988 9,933 76.5
TOTAL October 4,557 3,514 77.1
13-Jun-04 1,806 1,426 79.0
10-Aug-04 1,512 1,166 77.1
14-Sep-04 2,494 1,972 79.1
21-Sep-04 1,200 989 82.4
26-Sep-04 1,200 948 79.0
3-Oct-04 1,233 1,002 81.3
TOTAL 11,013 8,810 80.0
TOTAL October 2,801 2,309 82.4
Source: Pew, "About the Survey".