WASHINGTON (AP) — A political shift is beginning to take place in the US as tens of thousands of suburban voters who have contributed to the Democratic Party’s gains in recent years become Republicans.
More than 1 million voters in 43 states have switched to the Republican Party in the past year, according to voter registration data analyzed by The Associated Press. The previously unreported number reflects a phenomenon occurring in virtually every region of the country — Democratic and Republican states, along with cities and small towns — in the period afterward. President Joe Biden replace former President Donald Trump†
But nowhere has the shift been more pronounced — and dangerous for Democrats — than in the suburbs, where educated swing voters who have turned against Trump’s Republican party in recent years seem to be swinging back. Over the past year, many more people have switched to the GOP in suburban Denver to Atlanta and Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Republicans also gained ground in counties around mid-sized cities such as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Raleigh, North Carolina; Augusta, Georgia; and Des Moines, Iowa.
Ben Smith, who lives in a suburb of Larimer County, Colorado, north of Denver, said he had reluctantly registered as a Republican earlier in the year after growing concerned about Democrat support in some places for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines, the party’s inability to suppress violent crime and its frequent focus on racial justice.
“It’s more of a rejection of the left than an embrace of the right,” said Smith, a 37-year-old professional counselor whose transition from the Democratic Party began five or six years ago when he registered as a libertarian.
The AP surveyed nearly 1.7 million voters who were likely to have changed membership in 42 states for which there is data for the past 12 months, according to L2, a political data company. L2 uses a combination of state voter registrations and statistical models to determine party membership. While party switching is not uncommon, the data shows a clear reversal from Trump’s time in power, when Democrats were slightly ahead of the number of party changes across the country.
But in the past year, about two-thirds of the 1.7 million voters who switched party membership shifted to the Republican Party. In all, more than 1 million people became Republicans, compared to about 630,000 who became Democrats.
The widespread migration of more than 1 million voters, a small fraction of the total US electorate, will not guarantee widespread Republican success in November’s midterm elections, which will determine control of Congress and dozens of governors. Democrats hope Friday’s Supreme Court decision to dismiss Roe v. Wade will boost supporters, especially in the suburbs, ahead of the midterm elections.
Still, the details about party changes come as a serious warning to Democrats already concerned about the macro effects shaping the political landscape this fall.
About four months before Election Day, Democrats have no clear strategy for dealing with Biden’s weak popularity and voters’ overwhelming fear that the country is headed in the wrong direction with their party at the helm. And while Republicans themselves have offered few policy solutions, the GOP has worked effectively to capitalize on Democrats’ shortcomings.
Republicans took advantage last year as suburban parents grew increasingly frustrated with prolonged pandemic-related school closures. And as inflation increased recently, the Republican National Committee hosted voter registration events at gas stations in suburban areas in swing states like Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania to tie the Biden administration to record high gas prices. The GOP has also linked the Democratic president with an ongoing shortage of baby food.
“Biden and Democrats are sadly out of touch with the American people, which is why voters are flocking to the Republican Party,” RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel told the AP. She predicted that “U.S. suburbs will turn red in the coming cycles” because of “Biden’s gas hike, the open border crisis, baby food shortages and rising crime.”
The Democratic National Committee declined to comment when asked about the recent surge in voters switching to the GOP.
And while Republican officials are quick to take credit for the shift, the phenomenon gained momentum shortly after Trump left the White House. Still, the specific reason or reasons for the shift remain unclear.
At least some of the newly registered Republicans are actually Democrats who crossed over to vote against Trump-backed candidates in the GOP primaries. Such voters are likely to vote Democratic again in November.
But the scope and scope of the party shift suggests that something much bigger is at play.
In the past year, nearly every state — even those without high-profile Republican primaries — moved in the same direction as thousands of voters turned Republicans. Only Virginia, which held elections outside the year in 2021, saw Democrats rise significantly over the past year. But even there, Democrats were wiped out in last fall’s national election.
In Iowa, the Democrats had the advantage in party changers by a 2-to-1 margin. That has reversed in the past year, ahead of Republicans by a similar number. The same dramatic shift is happening in Ohio.
In Florida, Republicans captured 58 percent of party changes during the final years of the Trump era. Now, last year, they own 70 percent. And in Pennsylvania, Republicans went from 58 to 63 percent of the party changers.
The current advantage for Republicans among the party changers is playing out with particular ferocity in the country’s suburbs.
The AP found that the Republican advantage was greater in suburban “edge” counties, based on ratings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared to smaller cities and counties. Republicans have increased their share of party changers in the past year in 168 of the 235 suburban counties the AP has surveyed — 72 percent — compared to the last years of the Trump era.
These include suburban counties in Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Ohio, Virginia, and Washington State.
Republicans also gained ground in more distant suburban counties, which the CDC lumps together with mid-sized cities and calls “medium-sized metro” — more than 62 percent of such counties, 164 in all, saw Republican growth. They range from the suburbs north of Denver, such as Larimer, to the Los Angeles area, such as Ventura and Santa Barbara in California.
The Republican advantage was almost universal, but it was stronger in some places than others.
In Lorain County, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland, for example, nearly every party changer of the past year has gone Republican. That’s even as the Democrats captured three-quarters of those alternating parties in the same province during the end of the Trump era.
Some conservative leaders worry the GOP’s suburban gains will be limited if Republicans don’t do a better job explaining to suburban voters what they stand for — rather than what they’re against .
Emily Seidel, who leads the Koch-backed grassroots organization Americans for Prosperity, said her network sees firsthand voters distancing themselves from Democrats who represent “extreme policy positions.”
But that doesn’t mean they’re willing to vote against those lawmakers either. Frankly, they’re skeptical of either option they have,” Seidel said. “The lesson here: Candidates must defend their cause, they must give voters something to be for, not just something to oppose.”
Back in Larimer County, Colorado, 39-year-old housewife Jessica Kroells says she can no longer vote for Democrats, despite being a reliable Democratic voter until 2016.
There wasn’t a single “aha moment” that convinced her to switch, but by 2020 she said the Democratic Party had “left me”.
“The party itself is no longer Democrat, it’s progressive socialism,” she said, particularly Biden’s plan to wipe out billions of dollars in student debt.
Peoples reported from New York.