The number of registered voters in Massachusetts has dropped since the 2010 elections – but grown since the 2008 presidential primary, according to new statistics released by the secretary of state’s office. The percentage of registered Democrats has dropped since 2008.
Brian McNiff, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said the shifts mostly reflect the nature of the current race, rather than any broader demographic trend.
“In ’08, the last time we had a presidential election, we had pretty good contests for an open seat [in both parties],” McNiff said. “Now there’s no contest on the Democratic side.”
As of Feb. 15, the last date a voter could register for the March 6 presidential primary, there were 4,111,128 registered voters in Massachusetts. There were around 80,000 fewer voters enrolled this year than in October 2010 – but around 100,000 more voters enrolled this year than in January 2008.
The population of Massachusetts has been rising since 2008, so the drop in voter enrollment over the last two years cannot be attributed to a population shift.
McNiff said part of the reason voter registration is down is because there has not been a major contested election since 2010, so campaigns have not been out registering voters.
With no contested presidential primary, Democratic groups have no incentive to sign up voters until the November general election. The Republican campaigns have been largely ignoring Massachusetts, a highly Democratic state and the state Mitt Romney governed and is likely to win in the primary.
McNiff said the contested congressional races this year will likely lead to additional pushes to register voters before the primary and general elections in September and November.
The biggest shift in party affiliation this election has been a drop among Democrats and a rise in unenrolled voters. In 2012, 35.9 percent of voters were Democrats – a drop from 36.8 percent in 2008 and 36.5 percent in 2010. The number of Republicans also dropped, from 12.1 percent in 2008 to 11.3 percent each of the next two election cycles. At the same time, there was a steady increase in unenrolled voters, from 50.3 percent in 2008 to 51.3 percent in 2010 and 52.2 percent this year.
McNiff said part of that could be due to the fact that off-year elections, like those in 2011, are generally for non-partisan local races. In the presidential primary, unenrolled voters can vote in either party’s primary. “When we’ll have party primaries and possibly some contests for nominations in congressional and legislative offices, it will probably tick up party registration,” McNiff said.
Shira Schoenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shiraschoenberg.