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Hundreds of Rhode Island Republicans left the political party after the Jan. 6 insurrection

It’s hard to know why people change their political affiliations, but for many Rhode Islanders, the attack on the U.S. Capitol was a turning point.

Supporters of then President Donald Trump storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021.Kenny Holston/NYT

PROVIDENCE — After the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol by right-wing extremists and supporters of former President Donald J. Trump, about 1,500 Republicans in Rhode Island left their party.

That’s nearly as many as all of the voters — Democrats, Republicans, and Moderates — who changed parties or disaffiliated in January 2017, after the last presidential election.

It’s difficult to know what motivated people to change or leave their parties last month, but Jan. 6 appeared to be a turning point.

In January, 1,423 Republicans disaffiliated altogether, with all but 94 leaving on or after the Jan. 6 insurrection, according to data requested by the Globe from the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s office. There were 118 Republicans who disaffiliated the day after the riot at the Capitol -- and 88 Republicans who became unaffiliated on Inauguration Day.


Another 92 Republicans became Democrats, and all but seven of those voters made the switch on or after Jan. 6.

More unaffiliated voters also registered as Democrats than Republicans, 508 to 290, in January.

While there were slightly more Democrats who either disaffiliated or switched parties, the Republican Party in Rhode Island is about one-third the size of the Democratic Party, and so losses of Republican voters have a greater impact in the state.

There are 717,510 active registered voters in Rhode Island, including 102,288 Republicans and 311,413 Democrats. There are also 303,809 active voters who are not affiliated with either party.

Last month, 1,820 Democrats left the party, including 1,688 who disaffiliated and 132 Democrats who became Republicans. Of those, 105 registered Democrats joined the GOP on or after Jan. 6. Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats didn’t see a large jump in voters leaving the party on the day of the insurrection, or afterward, or on Inauguration Day.


Overall, last month there were more than double the number of Rhode Islanders who changed parties or disaffiliated, compared with January 2017.

One possible reason: Voters can change their party affiliation, though not cancel their registration, during interactions at the Division of Motor Vehicles.

Rhode Island implemented automated voter registration in 2018, which means the Secretary of State’s office now receives voter record updates daily from the DMV, said Nick Domings, spokesman for Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea.

The dates reflect when the local boards of canvassers enter the voter cancellations or party changes into the Central Voter Registration System. While both parties had a large bump in voter disaffiliations on Jan. 14, that jump was attributed to problems the DMV had from Jan. 7 to Jan. 13 that prevented data transfers, Domings said in an email.

Amanda Milkovits can be reached at Follow her @AmandaMilkovits.