Bono Sidharta voted in his first presidential election last November, as a registered Republican. But he’d been considering switching to Democrat for some time.
“It was definitely something that I thought of for a while,” he said. Then on Jan. 6, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, and for Sidharta, that was it. “[The riot] made me really think about it that day.”
He said the most powerful image from that day was of a rioter sitting at Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s desk.
Now he’s one of the 5,004 Connecticut voters who have left the Republican Party since Jan. 6. The 20-year-old college student from Torrington is now a registered Democrat.
According to data from the Secretary of the State’s office, Republicans left the party five times faster than the average monthly rate of loss from the past four years. The data covers voters who left between Jan. 7 and Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021.
By contrast, the party lost an average of 800 registered Republicans each month over the last four years. In the month after the Jan. 6 riot, the Republican Party lost voters 5 1/2 times faster than it did during the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency.
The number of departing voters shouldn’t be considered a measure of the Republican Party’s growth or decline -- it isn’t offset by the number of voters joining the Republican Party over that same time period.
The majority of voters who have left since Jan. 6 are now unaffiliated. That’s 3,313 voters or 66% of the total departures. And the same is true from the last four years: Most departing Republicans are unaffiliated voters as of today, and 916 voters switched from Republican to Democrat since Jan. 6 -- about 18%.
The riot seems to be motivating voters in many directions. Another voter contacted for this story -- who didn’t want to be publicly identified -- said they left because they felt the Republican Party no longer supported Trump. The voter said they distrusted news and media organizations, and that’s why they declined to be identified.
Motivations for leaving the party may not all be tied to the Capitol riot. The Republican Party had been seeing larger-than-average departures in the last six months. But the jump is significant.
A Path Forward
Jonathan Wharton, a political science professor at Southern Connecticut State University and former chair of the New Haven Republican Party, said he saw this trend starting before the Capitol riot, around the November 2020 election. October of last year saw the second-most departures, with 2,048 formerly Republican voters leaving for other affiliations. Many of them -- 1,402 voters -- are now unaffiliated.
“I guess the bigger question will be, ‘Will the party eventually find a pathway of bringing them back in?’” Wharton said. “Or maybe they won’t.”
Unaffiliated voters shouldn’t be underestimated, Wharton said. While the Democratic Party in Connecticut is almost double the size of the Republican Party, unaffiliated voters represent the largest group of all. Data from the Secretary of the State’s office show that has been the case for the last 10 years.
“They’re signing up at a higher rate as unaffiliated voters than they are for either party,” Wharton said.
Wharton sees this as a failure of both major parties to attract voters. But unaffiliated voters still cast ballots, and Wharton believes many voters who won’t call themselves Republican in name will at the least vote for the GOP.
But political memory is short, and Wharton said there are still two years until most of these voters will cast a ballot again. He believes it’s too soon to tell whether the memories of rioters in the halls of Congress will come with voters when they return to the ballot box.
For the full data set, click here: Voters Leaving the Republican Party
Ali Oshinskie is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Ali covers the Naugatuck River Valley for Connecticut Public Radio. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @ahleeoh.