For the first time in modern history, Democrats are no longer the registered majority of voters in Louisiana.
New voter statistics show that Democratic registration has dipped below 50 percent for the first time since 1957 — the earliest date for which records are available.
A combination of Republican and other party registrations now make up the majority of Louisiana’s 2.8 million voters, but barely, according to Secretary of State’s Office records.
“It’s a significant milestone,” said G. Pearson Cross, head of the Political Science Department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
As late as 1978, Democrats made up 90 percent of the Louisiana’s registered voters, the records show. There has been a steady decline since.
Part of the decline came as Louisiana adopted an open primary election system in 1978 where all candidates, regardless of party, run on the same ballot and all voters participate, said several political observers, including Cross.
More recently national politics has had an impact as well as changes in the state’s demographics, agreed the political scientists and party leaders.
Going into the fall election season, Democrats make up 1.4 million of the state’s voters, or 49.8 percent, according to the Aug. 1 tallies by the secretary of state.
Republicans total 756,319 voters, or 26.75 percent of the total number of registered voters, while other party registrants stand at 662,276, or 23.43 percent.
The dip below 50 percent for Democrats comes at time when all but one official elected statewide is Republican and the GOP has a majority in both the Louisiana House and Senate for the first time since Reconstruction.
In the past four years, Democratic registration has declined by nearly 100,000 voters. Republican and other party registrations picked up nearly the same number of voters — split 60 percent Republican and 40 percent other party.
“We have been trending to be a more conservative state for especially the last six years,” Louisiana Republican Party chairman Roger Villere said. Registrations of other party voters have been growing around the country.
Louisiana Democratic Party chairman Claude “Buddy” Leach was out of town and did not respond to requests for an interview.
Party executive director Renee Lapeyrolerie said the Democratic Party continues its voter registration efforts.
“I see the trend as people going to other party. I don’t see it as leaving us and going to the Republican Party,” Lapeyrolerie said. “It’s people taking a stand on their independence. They are going to look at the candidates’ records.”
Lapeyrolerie said a large number of other party voters still vote Democratic.
The trend away from Democratic registration began back in the 1970s and accelerated with the election of Ronald Reagan as U.S. president, ULL’s Cross said.
It’s been coming along slowly since then because of people not taking the time to change their party registration or being unwilling to break from long-standing political alignments, Cross said.
Cross said the voter shifts could be more of a de-alignment instead of a realignment as voters become “unswayed by party.” While Republicans are gaining, no-party and other-party ranks are too, he said.
Al Ater, a Democrat who has served with two Republican statewide elected officials, noted: “It’s not Republicans overtaking Democrats.”
The strongest force in today’s electorate is “no party” whose ranks keep growing, Ater said. “If I were a politician, I would pay attention to and be more concerned about them,” he said.
Southern University political scientist Albert Samuels said voters moved away from the Democratic Party after Hurricane Katrina, pushed by the perception that Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco did not handle the situation well.
“I also think President (Barack) Obama’s election has further helped push white Democrats into the Republican Party,” Samuels said. “Most of the white Democrats don’t want to have identification with a party headed by President Obama.”
Samuels said they have “taken cover” behind Obama’s moratorium on Gulf drilling. “I have a sneaky suspicion it’s underlying racial,” he said.
Since August 2007, the number of white Democrats declined by 115,697 registered voters, which is almost 8 percent of the party’s total, according to the secretary of state counts.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s re-election campaign aide Timmy Teepell agreed that Obama’s election helped erase the Democratic majority.
“The moratorium on oil and gas drilling, the explosion of government spending caused a lot of conservative Democrats in Louisiana to reassess their party affiliation,” Teepell said.
Teepell said he does not think the change in voter alignment will have much impact in Louisiana state and local elections this fall. “We tend to vote for the person rather than the party,” Teepell said.
The number of white and black Democrats is about equal — 683,319 whites and 686,557 blacks, the August statistics show. Another 37,894 are members of other races.
Republican registrants are overwhelmingly white —704,783, according to the secretary of state. Black Republicans number 23,515, while other races are 28,021.
Meanwhile, other parties register 457,321 white; 146,179, black; and 58,776, other race, the reports state.
Shreveport political analyst Elliott Stonecipher said Democratic registration is buoyed by black voters.
“The African-American population has plateaued at the same time that whites are leaving the party at a faster clip,” Stonecipher said. Only 18,310 more blacks are registered as Democrats now than there were four years ago, according to the statistics.
Stonecipher said young black Americans are not registering to vote. Some who have registered, haven’t voted and they have been purged from the voter rolls, he said.
Stonecipher said it is wrong to assume from the statistics that “you cannot elect a Democrat to a statewide office in Louisiana.”
“If there was a 40-ish successful, professional female, conservative to moderate Democrat out of a medical career or business world, new to politics … they would do extremely well,” Stonecipher said.
“If the candidate I described runs and gets elected, you have re-branded the Democratic Party,” Stonecipher said.