Republicans and the Trump campaign — facing severe polling, staff and advertising disadvantages — might be tempted to point to party voter registration trends as a sign of life and evidence of an underrated ground effort. On Monday, a Politico analysis concluded that “at least one ray of hope for a turnaround” is that Republicans are “winning [the] registration race” in the key states of Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Iowa. It’s true that Democrats’ edge in voter registration has shrunk in those states since 2012, but much like the Trump camp’s claims of July fundraising success, there’s far more to this story.
Party registration can often be a lagging, rather than leading, indicator. As southern states, Florida and North Carolina are home to large numbers of registered Democrats who have nonetheless already been voting Republican for years. The same is true of many working-class, union Democrats in Pennsylvania and Iowa. So are pro-GOP shifts there part of an ongoing long-term cultural realignment or an emerging Trump tsunami?
Examining the trends in these states under a microscope reveals that what’s happening is more a mix of party switching, natural replacement and removal of inactive Democratic voters from the rolls than a feverish Trump effort to expand the electorate. And in the Politico piece mentioned earlier, Ben Schreckinger acknowledges that Democrats have made voter registration gains recently in Arizona, Colorado and Nevada, all formerly GOP-leaning western states with fast-growing Latino populations.
There’s no doubt Trump compelled hundreds of thousands of conservative voters to switch their registrations to Republican to vote for him in closed primaries, accelerating these voters’ exodus from formal Democratic affiliation. But do they constitute a surge of new November voters? Not so much. It’s …