So many recent headlines, even in local media, mention that Republicans are leaving in droves from the political party. Many Republicans are disassociating from the party because of the Jan. 6 insurrection and former President Donald Trump – and more will likely do so if the former president runs again in 2024. But what much of the analysis fails to mention is that former Republicans are not turning to the Democratic Party. Instead, the vast majority have become unaffiliated voters.
In Connecticut, over 5,000 voters have left the Republican Party since Jan. 6 and some two-thirds of them are now unaffiliated. That number is significant since Republicans are barely holding on to 20% of registered voters, while Democrats are holding on to 38%.
But the majority of voters in the Constitution State remain unaffiliated voters – and that group is growing because so many are not registered with a political party. And with newly arriving out-of-state residents, especially from New York because of COVID-19, few transplants are joining either Republican or Democratic parties.
While it is convenient to cast blame for the Republican exodus to the former president, neither party is retaining and recruiting voters – especially in Connecticut. Party leaders often boast of maintaining party loyalty through a rigid closed primary election and party convention process, little has changed in attracting recent transplants or disaffected Republicans.
This should be the time to recruit voters into either political party since unaffiliated voters are increasing significantly in Connecticut. In fact, this would be an ideal moment since gubernatorial and statewide elections are next year. In an effort to draw more interest in these critical state races then, maybe both parties will curry favor among all of these unaffiliated voters before candidates start announcing their interests this summer.
But knowing how our state politics and state parties actually function, little will likely change. Party reform has been slow to allow for open primaries or ending party conventions in Connecticut. And any reform requires both major parties to agree to any changes together.
Considering the political era our nation and state are currently in, it will be next to impossible to see any significant reforms. Political parties, even at the state and local level, prefer the status quo and often maintain power and political centralization for their leaders.
This moment should be a wake-up call not only for Connecticut Republicans but also for the Democrats. Even in Connecticut, Democrats have relied for too long on casting blame about various political and social issues on the former president. What will they offer to keep voters and draw new ones into their party?
Meanwhile I will be awaiting any efforts or reforms aimed at bringing new voters into either major party in Connecticut. As a political scientist observing state and local politics, this can serve as a fascinating year to witness how the parties handle recruitment and party maintenance. I am not expecting a seismic shift but it would be interesting to hear ideas.
As for those of you who have joined the ranks of the unaffiliated, pay special attention to politicos suggesting any reforms or offering rhetoric. Let the major political parties work to include you – if they dare.
Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D. is the associate dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies and teaches political science at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. He is also a frequent contributor on WNPR.