BY DAVID ROYSE, THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA: Of the more than 57,000 people who registered to vote last month in Florida, the largest percentage by far signed up as independent voters, new state figures collected and released by Democrats show.
Democrats still could claim a good month, with 34 percent of new voters signing up with their party, outpacing Republicans.
But perhaps the most interesting numbers in the new data were the figures on registration of new Hispanic voters – a key demographic both parties are trying hard to woo ahead of the 2012 election.
Of the self-identified Hispanics who registered in March, 37 percent registered as Democrats and 46 percent registered as independents or without a party, while only 17 percent registered as Republicans.
In a state where a large number of Hispanics are Cuban who have typically voted Republican, the shift to more Hispanics registering as independents and Democrats could have major implications in future elections. Political observers have watched for several years now as the number of non-Cuban Hispanic voters in the state has increased , including a large Puerto Rican population in central Florida. Many of those voters, like Hispanics in other parts of the nation, have traditionally been more likely to register as Democrats.
The statistics, kept by the state, were sent out by Democrats on Friday, because they out-registered Republicans in the month after seeing the reverse at the end of last year. The state Division of Elections puts some registration statistics on its Web site, but it isn’t current, and doesn’t include the March figures.
The other big story in the March figures, though, is that neither party could outdraw the “neither” party choice.
Last month 57,374 new voters registered in Florida, with 23,333 of them, or 41 percent, choosing neither of the major parties. Another 19,223, or 34 percent, registered as Democrats, while 14,818, or 26 percent, signed up with the Republican Party.
The new registrations increase the lead in registered voters for Democrats, who now claim 40 percent of the statewide electorate to 36 percent for the GOP, with 24 percent registered as independent or no party affiliation voters. In all, the state had 12.3 million voters as of April 1.
In February, according to figures provided by the Democrats, the story was largely the same –
independents made up 39 percent of new voters to 32 percent for Democrats and 29 percent for Republicans.
But it represents a huge turnaround from December of 2011. That month, based on figures on the Division of Elections website, Republicans had a huge new registration advantage, with the GOP increasing its registration by 26,310 of 33,097 new voters that month. “No party” voters increased by 8,310 that month and Democratic registration actually decreased on a net basis by 473 voters statewide.
That, however, was the month before the January presidential primary, when Republican presidential candidates were making their case and their campaigns were urging people to register.
Last month, most new Republican voters – 77 percent – were white. By contrast, only about a third of new Democrats were white, with a third African-American and 22 percent Hispanic and the rest “other.”
The high no-party registration was most pronounced in some of the state’s large urban counties. In Miami-Dade County, 45 percent of new registrants were independents, while 39 percent were Democrats and 16 percent Republicans. Independents also accounted for the most registrations in Hillsborough, Orange, Pinellas, Duval and Palm Beach counties.
Among the state’s largest counties, only in Democratic stronghold Broward County did one of the parties outregister the independents. Forty-six percent of the 8,066 new voters signing up in March in Broward County were Democrats, compared to 38 percent who registered independent of the two parties and 16 percent who registered as Republicans.