BOISE, Idaho — This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press.
Just how many Idahoans have switched their political party affiliations ahead of the May 17 primary this year?
The numbers aren’t all that clear-cut, but a comparison of the April 1 Idaho voter registration figures to the Jan. 1 figures does shed some light on the answer to that question.
Over that time period, the number of unaffiliated Idaho voters dropped from 310,197 on Jan. 1 to 303,396 on April 1. That’s a drop of 6,801, which isn’t huge. It’s about a 2% drop in total numbers of unaffiliated Idaho registered voters.
At the same time, the number of registered Republicans went up from 531,420 in January to 546,226. That’s an increase of 14,806 registered GOP voters, or a 2% increase.
The number of registered Democratic voters in Idaho fell over the same time period from 134,908 in January to 129,728 in April. That’s a 5,180-voter decline, or 3.8%. No registered Democrats have been able to switch their affiliation for the primary to Republican since March 11, which was the deadline for inter-party affiliation switches before the primary. Unaffiliated voters, however, still can decide to affiliate with a party on May 17 at the polls.
The total number of registered voters also grew over those three months in Idaho, from 991,187 in January to 993,982 in April, but that’s only an increase of 2,795, or 0.3%.
The figures, from the Idaho Secretary of State’s office, show party registration numbers for the Constitution Party falling slightly from 3,816 in January to 3,802 in April. Registered Libertarians saw a similarly negligible change, falling from 10,846 in January to 10,830 in April. That’s less than half a percent drop for the Constitution Party and just a tenth of a percent drop for Libertarians.
So what does all this mean? There hasn’t been a huge rush of party-switching, though there has been some change. In January, 31.3% of Idaho’s registered voters weren’t affiliated with any party. Three months later, it was 30.5%.
In January, 13.6% of Idaho’s registered voters were registered Democrats, and 53.6% were registered Republicans. Now, that’s shifted only slightly, to 13% Democrats and 55% Republicans.
I asked both major state party chairs about the numbers on Friday, but heard back only from Democratic state Chair Lauren Necochea. “This isn’t some big, huge swing,” she said. “We’re talking about a few thousand voters.”
“A lot of Idahoans feel like their voices are not being heard, and I think that can be directly tied to the Republican supermajority control of our state and the fact that since they closed their primary and the party continues to veer towards the extreme right, they have embarrassed our state,” Necochea said. “We continue to make national news for our extreme policies and extreme things that Republican politicians have said. I think people are concerned about the future of Idaho, and I can see why they would affiliate so they would vote in the Republican Party and make sure dangerous people like Janice McGeachin don’t become our governor.”
However, she said, “I will also say that when you look at the difference between the supposed moderates and the extreme elements, it’s more of a difference of style than substance. We still see in the Idaho House of Representatives the majority of Republicans taking very extreme votes and voting against things that are popular among the majority of Idahoans.” Necochea is the current House assistant minority leader.
She cited Medicaid expansion, which passed by voter initiative with 61% support statewide after lawmakers refused to consider it for six straight years; and last year’s House rejection of a $6 million federal early learning grant, saying, “Investments in preschool are very popular among Idahoans.”
She also noted that Idaho Democrats still have an open primary, while the Republican party is closed to anyone other than registered Republicans. “So our voter registrations understate our support,” Necochea said. “We might be a small number of the registrations, but in statewide races usually carry close to 40% of the vote.”
Still, the minority party holds only around 20% of the seats in the Legislature. “So it’s unfortunate that our mainstream views are so under-represented among the people who make the laws. And that’s what we’re working to change,” she said.
Idaho GOP Chairman Tom Luna didn’t respond to a request for comment Friday on the voter registration figures.
Jeffrey Lyons, Boise State University political scientist, said the numbers don’t add support to the widespread speculation about large numbers of Democrats switching parties to vote in the GOP primary this spring. “There undoubtedly are Democrats doing that, I think we all know some of those people,” he said, “but I do not think that is nearly as widespread as people on both the left and the right think that it is.”
“We have a bunch of research that tells us any time you make people do any level of paperwork, it’s a big turnoff to them,” he said. “That’s just something a lot of people aren’t going to do.”
Lyons said based on BSU’s survey research, “Most of the folks moving here appear to be Republicans, so that’s probably also bolstering the Republican numbers a little bit.”
STATE REVENUES UP AGAIN
Idaho state tax revenues for the month of March beat state revenue forecasts once again, coming in $83 million, or 27.9%, ahead of predictions. That means as of the end of the third quarter of the current fiscal year, year-to-date general fund revenues are running $390.8 million over forecasts, or 11.1%, and are 25.2% ahead of last year’s level.
By far the biggest overage for the month came in corporate income taxes, which came in a whopping 187.4% over forecasts, or $40.6 million ahead. Individual income tax wasn’t far behind, running $38.1 million over forecast or $35.8 percent.
Sales tax revenues to the general fund were just slightly ahead of forecasts at $157 million for March, $1.3 million over predictions or 0.8%. For the fiscal year to date, they’re the one revenue category that is actually slightly below forecast, by 1.4%, though they remain 12% higher than last year’s collections to date at this time.
Meanwhile, the Tax Relief Fund, which collects all state sales taxes paid on online purchases, collected $13.4 million in March and has collected $136.9 million over the fiscal year’s first three quarters. That represents 6.4% of Idaho’s gross sales tax receipts.
Greg Piepmyer, chief economist for the state, wrote in his monthly General Fund Revenue Report, “Taxes from business are well above expectation. They have been notably since December.” That’s true on the national level as well, he noted. “Locally, business income tax is up 250% compared with last fiscal year.”
The legislative budget office reported last week that current projections show the state will end the fiscal year June 30 with a $696.1 million ending balance, $390.8 million more than lawmakers expected when they adjourned this year’s legislative session on March 31.
This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press, read more on IdahoPress.com.
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