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Could NPA Voters Decide '14 Elections?

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  No Party Affiliation voters in Florida are helping fuel a national trend by rejecting both the Democratic and Republican parties in now-record numbers.

Figures from the state Division of Elections show Democrats now accounting for 39% of registered voters, with the GOP at 35%. No Party Affiliation – NPA – is at 23.3%. The numbers reflect voters who registered before the October 6 deadline to vote in the general election.

Charles Zeldin, a political scientist at Nova Southeastern University, says the reasons are many: political bickering; no desire to identify as either a Republican or Democrat, and not wanting to be pigeonholed on certain issues.

“It bodes to make this state a less-certain state as to how we’re going to vote,” said Zeldin. “We are going to be a ‘purple state,’ simply because the people in the middle can flip between elections.”

According to state figures, Florida’s voter rolls have added more than 500,000 names in the past four years – 90% of which are unaffiliated. This as the two major parties have remained for the most part stagnant.

If you add the minor parties – Libertarian, Green, Independent, etc. – they and no-party voters now outnumber Republicans in some areas downstate, where NPA growth is the most obvious. In the 2012 presidential election, they outnumbered voters in both parties.

For the upcoming general election, there are 11.9 million registered voters in Florida. That’s down from about 2,900 from 2012. The NPA movement is somewhat less robust in the Panhandle – which many consider the most politically conservative part of Florida.

Mary Gutierrez, co-President of the Pensacola-area League of Women Voters, says many unaffiliated voters are young and registering for the first time.

“The philosophies are a little bit different with some of the generations that are coming up now,” Gutierrez said. “They don’t want to align themselves with any particular party because they want to be able to choose who represents them more comprehensively.”

As of September 30, NPAs in Escambia County totaled more than 35,000 – roughly 17.5% of all registered voters according to the Supervisor of Elections Office. That’s good for third behind the majors – 44% Republican, 36% Democratic. The numbers are similar in GOP-heavy Santa Rosa and Okaloosa Counties. Gutierrez says the non-affiliated are not only younger, but driven more by issues than party ideology.

One of the big questions about Florida’s expanding list of no-party voters is: will they actually vote? Nova Southeastern’s Charles Zeldin says not aligning with a party indicates they could be what he calls “low-interest voters.”

“When you identify as an independent, you’re saying ‘I don’t have a home; I don’t have a commitment, I’m not making a stand for one or the other possibilities,” Zeldin said. “And while it can be for many a very strong statement of ‘I’m going to vote the individual man or the individual woman or the individual issue,’ for a lot of people it’s ‘I really don’t care that much.’”

And that’s a challenge for both Republican and Democratic candidates. Historically, the independent or non-affiliate voter often has been the difference between victory and defeat. Turnout is another major question in the general election. Only about 18% of registered voters cast ballots in the August 26 primary. Also historically, the numbers are expected to improve. In 2010, the last gubernatorial election, the primary attracted only 22% turnout. But almost half – 49% -- cast ballots that November. 

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.