WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) – A political shift is beginning to take hold across the United States as tens of thousands of suburban swing voters who have helped fuel the Democratic Party’s gains over the past few years become Republicans.
More than 1 million voters in 43 states have switched to the Republican Party over the past year, according to voter registration data analyzed by The Associated Press. The previously unreported number reflects a phenomenon that has been taking place in virtually every region of the country – Democratic and Republican states along with cities and small towns – in the period since President Joe Biden replaced former President Donald Trump.
But nowhere is the shift more pronounced – and dangerous for Democrats – than in the suburbs, where well-trained swing voters who have turned against Trump’s Republican Party in recent years appear to be swinging back. Over the past year, many more people have switched to the GOP across suburban provinces from Denver to Atlanta and Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Republicans also gained ground in counties around medium-sized cities such as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Raleigh, North Carolina; Augusta, Georgia; and Des Moines, Iowa.
Ben Smith, who lives in suburban Larimer County, Colorado, north of Denver, said he reluctantly registered as a Republican earlier this year after becoming increasingly concerned about Democrats’ support in some places for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines, the party’s inability to suppress violent crime and its regular focus on racial justice.
“It’s more of a rejection from the left than embracing the right,” said Smith, a 37-year-old professional counselor whose transition away from the Democratic Party began five or six years ago when he registered as a libertarian.
The Associated Press surveyed nearly 1.7 million voters who likely switched affiliates across 42 states for which there is data over the past 12 months, according to L2, a political data firm. L2 uses a combination of state voter records and statistical modeling to determine party affiliation. Although party switching is not uncommon, the data shows a definite reversal of the period when Trump was in office, when Democrats enjoyed a slight lead in the number of party switches nationwide.
But over the past year, about two-thirds of the 1.7 million voters who changed their party affiliation have moved to the Republican Party. In total, more than 1 million people became Republicans compared to about 630,000 who became Democrats.
The broad migration of more than 1 million voters, a small portion of the overall U.S. electorate, does not ensure widespread Republican success in the November midterm elections, which will determine control of Congress and dozens of governorships. Democrats hope the Supreme Court’s decision Friday to Roe v. Wade to reject supporters will encourage, especially in the suburbs, ahead of the medium term.
Yet the details about party switches are a serious warning to Democrats who were already concerned about the macro effects the political landscape is shaping this fall.
About four months before election day, Democrats have no clear strategy to address Biden’s low popularity and voters’ overwhelming fear that the country is in the wrong direction with their party in power. And while Republicans offered few policy solutions of their own, the IDP worked effectively to capitalize on the Democrats’ shortcomings.
Republicans benefited last year as suburban parents became increasingly frustrated by protracted pandemic-related school closures. And as inflation has increased more recently, the Republican National Committee has offered voter registration opportunities at gas stations in suburban areas across swing states such as Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania to link the Biden administration to record high gas prices. The IDP has also linked the Democratic president to a continuing baby formula shortage.
“Biden and Democrats are sadly out of touch with the American people, and that’s why voters are flocking en masse to the Republican Party,” RNC President Ronna McDaniel told the Associated Press. She predicted that “U.S. suburbs will tend red for cycles to come” due to “Biden’s gasoline march, the open border crisis, baby formula shortage and increasing crime.”
The Democratic National Committee declined to comment when asked about the recent increase in voters who switched to the IDP.
And while Republican officials quickly accepted credit for the move, the phenomenon gained momentum shortly after Trump left the White House. Yet the specific reason or reasons for the move remain unclear.
At least some of the newly registered Republicans are actually Democrats who crossed over to vote against Trump-backed candidates in GOP primary elections. Such voters are likely to vote Democratic again this November.
But the scope and breadth of the party conversion suggests something much bigger.
Over the past year, almost every state – even those without high-profile Republican primary elections – has moved in the same direction as voters among the thousand Republicans. Only Virginia, which held elections outside the year in 2021, has seen Democrats increase markedly in recent years. But even there, Democrats were wiped out in last fall’s nationwide election.
In Iowa, Democrats previously retained the advantage in party changers with a 2-to-1 margin. It has reversed over the past year, with Republicans leading by a similar amount. The same dramatic shift takes place in Ohio.
In Florida, Republicans captured 58 percent of party changers during those final years of the Trump era. Now, over the past year, they recommend 70 percent. And in Pennsylvania, Republicans went from 58 to 63 percent of party changers.
The current advantage for Republicans among party changers plays out with particular ferocity in the country’s suburbs.
The Associated Press found that the Republican advantage was greater in suburban “edge” provinces, based on classifications from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared to smaller towns and provinces. Republicans have increased their share of party changers in 168 of 235 suburban Associated Press-surveyed counties in the past year – 72 percent – compared to the last years of the Trump era.
It included suburban counties across Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Ohio, Virginia, and the state of Washington.
Republicans have also gained ground in far-beyond suburban counties, which the CDC associates with medium-sized cities and calls “medium metro” – more than 62 percent of such counties, 164 in all, have seen Republican growth. They range from the suburban counties north of Denver, such as Larimer, to Los Angeles areas such as Ventura and Santa Barbara in California.
The Republican advantage was almost universal, but it was stronger in some places than others.
For example, in Lorain County, Ohio, just outside Cleveland, nearly every party switch has become a Republican in recent years. This is even while Democrats captured three-quarters of those changing parties in the same country at the end of the Trump era.
Some Conservative leaders are worried that the GOP’s suburban gains will be curtailed if Republicans do not do a better job by explaining to suburban voters what they stand for – instead of what they stand for.
Emily Seidel, who heads the Koch-backed grassroots organization Americans for Prosperity, said her network saw first-hand that suburban voters distance themselves from Democrats who represent “extreme policy positions.”
“But it also does not mean that they are ready to vote against those legislators. “In fact, they are skeptical of both options,” Seidel said. “The lesson here: Candidates must state their case, they must give voters something to be for, not just something to be against.”
Back in Larimer County, Colorado, 39-year-old homemaker Jessica Kroells says she can no longer vote for Democrats, despite being a trusted Democratic voter until 2016.
There was not a single “aha moment” that convinced her to switch, but by 2020 she said the Democratic Party had “left me behind.”
“The party itself is no longer democratic, it’s progressive socialism,” she said, specifically condemning Biden’s plan to eliminate billions of dollars in student debt.
Peoples reported from New York.