Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The GOP’s Lost Opportunity

First there were the bank bailouts. Next there was cap and trade. Next there was the government’s takeover of General Motors. And then came health care. And the tea parties. And rising numbers of endangered Democrats in Congress. And the much-hyped return of former Governor Bob Ehrlich to run in a rematch against Martin O’Malley. On top of all of that, there is the wretched state of the economy. It has been a LONG time since the Republicans have had this much to work with. So you would think that the Maryland GOP would be seeing lots of growth, right?

You’d be wrong. The Maryland Republican Party is shrinking.

Following are voter registration counts by party as of the last five general elections, plus March 2010.

Since the election of Barack Obama as President and all of the ensuing events above, the Democrats have lost 13,801 registered voters, or 0.7% of their party. The Republicans have lost 24,292 registered voters, or 2.6% of their party. All others, most of whom are unaffiliated voters, have grown by 13,882 (2.5%).

Voter registration is driven by two things: presidential elections and presidential performance. Below are comparative counts by party since 2000.

Three spikes in all categories are obvious: the 2000, 2004 and 2008 general elections. But there are also smaller changes that occur in the interims. For example, the Democrats added an average 11,364 voters per month between November 2007 and August 2008 before adding 35,549 voters in September 2008 and 91,167 in October 2008. Dissatisfaction with George W. Bush helped Maryland Democrats build their party. But dissatisfaction with Barack Obama has not helped Maryland Republicans build theirs.

As a result, the GOP’s percentage of registered voters is the lowest in at least ten years. (The State Board of Elections’ published monthly data goes back only through 2000.) Their registration percentage has slid from a recent high of 30.1% in May 2004 to 26.5% in March 2010.

If Obama’s problems are boosting anyone’s numbers, it may be small parties and unaffiliated voters. In January 2000, there were 2.38 Republicans for every one of these voters. In March 2010, there were 1.58 Republicans for every one of these voters.

Much has been written about the Maryland GOP’s failure to raise money, which is certainly a problem. The state party reported $142.56 on hand in state funds in January and $28,144 on hand in federal funds at the end of March. But the party’s failure to grow in the face of such grand opportunity may be an even bigger problem. When will another Great Recession emerge? When will a conservative movement resembling the Tea Party spontaneously form again?

If the GOP cannot grow under these conditions, when will it ever grow?