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California’s Independent Voters and the Presidential Primary

Alyssa Dykman January 15, 2020
photo - People in a Row

Independents may play a central role in the March primary, as they now comprise the second-largest voting bloc in California. The share of Californians registered as independents, also known as “decline to state” or “no party preference” (NPP), was 26.7% of registered voters as of October—up from 24% at the same point before the last presidential primary. With independents a growing faction, it is critical to understand these voters and their motivations.

In PPIC’s November Statewide Survey, 28% of registered voters were independents. About six in ten say they have always been an independent voter, while four in ten say they previously registered with a major party—with 56% naming the Democratic Party and 40% the Republican Party. Today, about half of independent voters (48%) consider their views closer to the Democratic Party, while fewer say the Republican Party (24%) or neither party (22%).

When asked the main reason they are registered as an independent and not as a member of a political party, a plurality (39%) say they are not satisfied with the parties and they do not reflect their views. Another 15% say they vote for candidates, not parties, and 8% vote for both Democrats and Republicans.

figure - Reason for Registering as an Independent

In California, political parties decide whether independents can vote in their presidential primary, and three political parties allow it: the American Independents, Democrats, and Libertarians. One in four independent voters in our November survey plan to vote in the Democratic primary, while about half say they will vote on the nonpartisan ballot.

Independents seeking to vote in the Republican presidential primary must re-register to vote with that party. Without registering as a Republican, independents will be unable to cast a vote for President Trump or potential challengers in the Republican presidential primary. (Members of the Green or Peace and Freedom parties must also re-register with and request a ballot from the major party of their choice.)

Independents who want to vote for US president in the primary must request a ballot with presidential candidates on it; otherwise, they receive a nonpartisan ballot. Although the deadline to request a ballot has passed, independents can still exchange their ballot at a local elections office or re-register with another party.

PPIC will continue to track voter and party profiles in 2020, with a focus on the state’s evolving independent voting bloc.

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