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Voter registration patterns in Florida match 2014 trends — when Republicans won

While the March for Our Lives organizers are the highest-profile group attempting to register Florida voters ahead of the 2018 midterm election, they’re hardly the only group from across the political spectrum trying to sign up young voters in the nation’s largest swing state.

Recent data from TargetSmart, a data firm that works on behalf of Democrats, showed that voters from ages 18 to 29 made up a larger share of newly registered voters in the two and a half months after the Parkland shooting on Valentine’s Day, compared to the two and a half months before the shooting.

But a deeper look at Florida’s voter file shows that the post-Parkland bump, where the total number of young people registering to vote increased by 41 percent in the two and a half months after the shooting, matches trends during the 2014 midterm elections in which Republicans were able to maintain control of the governor’s mansion and win back a competitive Miami congressional seat.

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From December 2013 to April 2014, voters from the ages of 18-29 increased by 19 percentage points over the same time period of TargetSmart’s analysis in 2018, according to data provided by University of Florida political science professor Daniel A. Smith. The bump in young people registering to vote is partially due to election supervisors and third-party groups reaching young people in high school who would be eligible to vote for the first time in November.

“There’s a bump in March [2018] but I suspect this is the same kind of impacts from supervisors going out and registering voters that we have seen in other election years,” Smith said. “I’ve looked at voter registration trends and they’re cyclical. There’s a lot of outside factors besides an individual thinking that he or she wants to register to vote that are at play, including voter reg drives by third-party groups.”

In the first six months of 2018, young voters from ages 18-29 accounted for 34 percent of all newly registered voters in Florida, or 97,962 people total. The share of newly registered young voters increased from 28 percent in January 2018, before the shooting, to 40 percent in March, the first full month after the shooting and the same month of the March For Our Lives demonstrations around the country. In April, May and June 2018, the numbers have leveled off. Young voters have accounted for 35, 36 and 35 percent of newly registered voters in the past three months.

The majority of young voters also aren’t registering as Democrats.

In the two and a half months before the shooting, 29 percent of newly registered young voters registered as Democrats, a number that increased to 33 in the two and a half months after the shooting. But those numbers are up only marginally compared to the same time frame in the 2014 cycle, when 28 percent of newly registered young voters registered as Democrats from December to mid-February and 28.64 registered as Democrats from mid-February to April.

A plurality of young voters are registering without a party affiliation and Democrats outpace Republicans among newly registered young voters. Florida has a closed primary, meaning only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote in their party’s respective primary election.

“The share of 18- to 29-year-olds will fluctuate some,” Smith said. “Florida is more unique ... you have hundreds of people moving to Florida every day, you have thousands of people every week becoming U.S. citizens and many of them are not 18- to 29 years old, whereas in other states you have the aging-in of registration for 18-year-olds that helps to increase those numbers a little.”

Smith said the late summer will show another spike in young people registering to vote, as outside groups from the left and right along with non-partisan groups ramp up their voter registration efforts. And the March for Our Lives organizers will certainly be part of the effort, as the group recently reached its halfway mark on a nationwide summer tour that stopped in 16 states. Their tour will stop in Tallahassee on July 28.

“Wherever we go, we’re learning that everybody wants to be heard in our political system,” March For Our Lives organizer Jaclyn Corin said in a press release. “We’re also learning that we have a long way to go before everyone can be heard. Voting is the next step, which is why we’re grateful to leaders like [Los Angeles Mayor Eric] Garcetti, who are making it easier for students to make their choices clear at the ballot box.”

But Smith said that if the March For Our Lives organizers were behind a significant number of the newly registered voters in Florida in the months immediately after the shooting, their impact could be greater than outside groups who make it a priority to register people in the weeks before an election. In a 2018 paper in Electoral Studies, Smith found that new Florida voters who register in closer proximity to an election date are more likely to vote in that election, but less likely to vote in future elections than voters who register further away from Election Day.

“That might be good for the March For Our Lives, in that if they’re registering people earlier, they will probably stay on for a longer time for future elections,” Smith said. “It’s kind of depressing that these last-minute registrants didn’t have staying power for future elections.”

But the ultimate test of voter registration efforts for young people won’t be known until after the November elections, when Floridians will pick a new governor and vote in the nation’s most expensive U.S. Senate contest. Only 20 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds who registered from December 2013 to April 2014 ended up voting that November. As a comparison, about 60 percent of newly registered voters from ages 45-64 over the same period ended up voting.

“Clearly, we’re not going to know until after the election where we can actually measure how many of these newly registered voters turned out,” Smith said.

Alex Daugherty, 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty
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