On Jan. 6, hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a frenzied ploy to invalidate the presidential election.
And in the weeks that followed, thousands of voters have stormed out of the California Republican Party.
Data compiled by the California Secretary of State’s office shows 33,448 voters have left the state GOP since the day of the Capitol riot. That exodus reached its zenith the following day, when 3,243 former Republicans called it quits on the party of Donald Trump.
That rush for the doors is part of a national trend. In Arizona, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, the GOP has seen their registered numbers fall in the wake of the assault on American governance and democracy, provoked in part by the Republican president of the United States.
San Diego County was part of the trend, with more than 4,700 local Republicans fleeing the one-time party of Abraham Lincoln in January.
The surge in party defections is not typical. After the 2016 presidential election, weekly departures from the GOP — part of the ordinary churn of state politics that regularly affects both major parties equally — continued at a steady pace from early December to late January. There was no comparable exit among Democratic voters over the same period.
The number of fresh departures, which number in the thousands, are small compared to the size of the 5 million-strong California Republican Party. The deserters account for just over half a percent of the state’s GOP.
“It’s a cute graphic but probably not going to change anything…it’s not GameStop,” said Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc., which provides voter tracking services to both Democratic and Republican campaigns.
Still, every voter matters to a party that has for years barely registered as a political afterthought in California state government. Republicans have not won a single statewide office since 2006. In recent years, the party has jostled with “no party preference” for the second most popular political designation among California voters.
With Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom facing a possible recall election later this year, California Republicans anticipate a new opportunity in 2021 to claw back some political power in the state. A record-breaking walkout in the first few weeks of the year does not make for an auspicious beginning.
Voter registration changes are also a “lagging indicator of attitudinal changes,” said Mitchell. Someone who changes their mind about a political party may not feel compelled to immediately go online and change their party affiliation. Instead, they might wait until the next election — or the next time they’re at the DMV.
In other words, the small bump in Republican defections in January could foreshadow a larger wave in the months to come.
Party spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
The changes in GOP registration data do not necessarily translate to gains for the Democratic Party. Nearly 40% of the newly former-Republicans did not join another party at all, but left their affiliation as “no party preference.” Only 23% joined the Democrats. That’s less than the 27% who signed up with the American Independents, a far-right fringe party that voters regularly confuse with being a party-less political independent.
CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.