(Photo by Don Kadair)
An increasing number of East Baton Rouge Parish voters are bucking the two-party system and registering as other or no-party voters, which has been the parish’s fastest-growing base over the last eight years.
Independent voters are still the minority, but the gap is shrinking. Other-party registration is up 12% since 2012 and 21% since 2008,
according to registration reports from the Secretary of State’s Office. They now represent 24% of the electorate in East Baton Rouge.
Registered Republicans in the parish rose 4% over the past four years and now make up 28% of voters. Democrats are still the largest group, with 48% of voters, but their registration numbers have remained stagnant in East Baton Rouge and are declining statewide.
Whether the shift will have any impact on local elections, though, depends on who shows up at the polls. Voter turnout, not registration, is what matters most come Election Day, and political pollsters say those who are unaffiliated with major parties are often less motivated to participate.
“Independents don’t show up in our surveys in meaningful numbers,” says local pollster Bernie Pinsonat. “It’s fashionable to register no party, but the problem with that attitude is they don’t have real passion for issues like Republicans and Democrats have.”
But when other-party voters do turn out to vote, they could hold the power to determine an election, says Verne Kennedy, pollster and president of Market Research Insight, which is based in Florida and regularly conducts polls on Louisiana elections. Kennedy says the independent voter movement is a national trend, and in some states unaffiliated voters outnumber the major parties.
“Party loyalty is not what it used to be at all,” he says. “And the people actually making decisions are about 10 to 15 percent of independents.”
In Louisiana, party registration doesn’t always indicate which party people actually vote for, pollsters say. For instance, white voters who have fled the Democratic Party for the GOP may not have changed their registration, which could explain why Democrats are still the majority. Independents may not be what they seem either.
“They may register independent, but most are whites and vote Republican,” Pinsonat says. “If they didn’t, Republicans wouldn’t control the state.”
Pinsonat argues the most important trend to follow is the demographics of who actually votes, and in East Baton Rouge and Louisiana at large, more white Republican voters show up at the polls than black Democrats.
Compared to East Baton Rouge, statewide registration also shows an increase in other-party voters, but Republicans are growing at a slightly higher rate. Registered GOP voters are up 10% since 2012 and represent 30% of the state electorate. Other-party voters increased 8% over the past four years and make up 26% of Louisiana voters. Meanwhile, registered Democrats have declined 5% since 2012, but still make up 45% of voters.
Kennedy says independent voters are more likely to be women, tend to be younger and make voting decisions later than major party voters. Pinsonat would add another characteristic to that list: “They don’t vote,” he says.
Kennedy, though, gives them more credit. “Independents probably vote three to four times out of five,” he says.