The composition of the electorate may be more fluid this cycle than any presidential election in recent memory. The combination of the global pandemic and the historic protests in response to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have had a profound impact on most aspects of our lives.
The question remains: how have these events impacted our politics and how will they impact the 2020 elections? An analysis of voter registration data from local election administration officials paired with TargetSmart’s voter file starts to answer that question.
Impact of COVID-19 on Voter Registration
In a normal presidential year, the months of March, April and May typically see a surge in voter registration that coincide with presidential and down ballot primaries. As COVID shut down the economy, delayed primaries and depressed turnout, voter registration tanked across the board.
In March and April of 2016, more than 4.7 million Americans registered to vote. In March and April of 2020, however, that number plummeted to 3.12 million, a 32% drop. This decline accelerated in May. In May 2016, nearly 2 million people registered and over the same period in 2020 just over 900,000 people registered, a 54% decrease.
National Protest Movement & Voter Registration
That negative trend line changed dramatically in June. Despite a full or partial lockdown in large swaths of the country for much of the month, voter registration began to rebound as people took to the streets to protest.
Throughout June of 2016, 1.6 million Americans registered to vote. In 2020, 1.1 million Americans registered in the first 15 days of the month. (Because each jurisdiction updates their voter files on a separate schedule, full data for the month is not yet available.)
Looking deeper into the data, particularly states that have updated their file with complete or near complete June data, the picture is even more favorable for Democrats. (Note: Data reflects registered party where available, and TargetSmart modeled party in states without partisan registration.)
Here are a few examples:
In June of 2016, 24,000 Democrats registered in the state, compared to 20,000 Republicans. In 2020, more than 30,000 Democrats registered (25% increase) while Republican registration dropped to 16,000 (20% decrease).
In Minnesota, the epicenter of the protest movement, voter registration for Democrats nearly doubled in June from 17,000 in 2016 to 32,000 in 2020. Meanwhile, Republican registration essentially flat-lined at 17,000.
In June of 2016, 2,673 Democrats registered while this June, 3,821 Democrats registered - a 49% increase. Meanwhile, 2,936 Republicans registered in 2016 while 3,038 registered in 2020 - a modest 3.5% increase.
We are continuing to monitor these registration trends, and will share our findings with the community as they become available. In the meantime, please feel free to reach out by tweeting or reply directly to me at this email with questions or feedback.