No Party Affiliation voters in Florida are helping fuel a national trend by rejecting both the Democratic and Republican parties in now-record numbers. WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody reports.
The reasons are many – political bickering; no desire to identify as either a Republican or Democrat, and not wanting to be pigeonholed on certain issues. According to state figures, Florida’s voter rolls have added more than 500,000 names in the past four years – 90% of which are unaffiliated. In the meantime, the two major parties have remained for the most part stagnant.
“It bodes to make this state a less-certain state as to how we’re going to vote,” says Charles Zeldin, a political scientist at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. “We are going to be a ‘purple state’ simply because the people in the middle flip between elections, and often between candidates. They’re more likely to split their vote than someone who identifies as a Democrat or a Republican.”
If you add the minor parties – Libertarian, Green, Independent, etc. – they and no-party voters now outnumber Republicans in some areas downstate, where NPA growth is the most obvious. In the 2012 presidential election, Zeldin says they outnumbered voters in both parties.
About three million of Florida’s 11.4 million registered voters are NPA. But the movement is somewhat less robust in the Panhandle – which many consider the most politically conservative part of Florida. Mary Gutierrez, the co-President of the Pensacola area League of Women Voters, says many first-time registered voters tend to be younger and unaffiliated.
“The philosophies are a little bit different with some of the generations that are coming up now,” says Gutierrez. “They don’t want to align themselves with any particular party because they want to be able to choose who represents them more comprehensively, as well as get away from the negative campaigning.”
As of June 30, NPAs in Escambia County totaled more than 34,000 – or 17.3% of all registered voters. They are third behind the majors – 44% Republican, and 36% Democratic. The numbers are similar in GOP-heavy Santa Rosa and Okaloosa Counties. Gutierrez says the non-affiliated are not only younger, but driven more by issues than party ideology.
One of the big questions about Florida’s expanding list of no-party voters is: will they actually vote? Nova Southeastern’s Charles Zeldin says not aligning with a party indicates they could be what he calls “low-interest voters.”
And that’s a challenge for both Republican and Democratic candidates. Historically, the independent or non-affiliate voter often has been the difference between victory and defeat.
More information is available from the Bureau of Voter Registration Services at election.dos.state.fl.us. The deadline to register to vote in the August 26 primary is July 28.