Voter Rosters Show Little Change

Despite the anti-incumbency rhetoric of this election, registration patterns offer scant evidence of voter angst

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

ACROSS America today, voters will take their anger and frustration with federal and state governments to the polls - and return most incumbents to office. Despite talk this year about a ``throw-the-bums-out'' mentality among the electorate, a Monitor survey of voter-registration statistics in 10 states shows little change in party preferences. This coincides with other studies and polls that give little evidence of an anti-incumbent revolution.

The Monitor survey shows that in California and North Carolina, the percentages of voters registered as Democrats or Republicans have not changed over the past two years. Republicans picked up two percentage points in Florida, while Democrats fell two points.

The GOP picked up 1 percent from the Democrats in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Republican gains of 1 percent in New Jersey, Ohio, and Oklahoma came from the ranks of previously independent voters. In New York, however, Democrats gained 1 percent at the Republicans' expense.

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The most significant voter shifts were found in Massachusetts. Democratic registration in the Bay State fell 4 percent from 1988, while the vastly outnumbered Republicans gained 1 percent. The independent category picked up 4 percent to become the largest ``party'' in the commonwealth. State officials say about 77,000 voters have switched to independent just since the September primary.

Some GOP gains are expected in Massachusetts at the state level. Even so, it appears likely the state's entire congressional delegation will return to Washington.

The 10 states surveyed by the Monitor are the most populous in which voters register by party. Several other states with large populations - including Texas, Illinois, and Michigan - do not have partisan registration.

Richard Scammon, director of the Election Research Center in Washington, D.C., says his review of polls and voter-registration data ``translates into more of the same thing. If there really were a great anti-incumbent surge,'' Mr. Scammon says, ``you would have a Republican majority in the House [of Representatives] and Senate in November. Nobody thinks you'll get that.''

Scammon says he does not believe there will be significant changes in the balance of power in either the House or Senate.

In 1986, when the Democrats regained control of the Senate, which the GOP had dominated since 1980, ``the Republicans lost eight senators. It would be a surprise if that happened to either party this time,'' Scammon says.

Curtis Gans, director of the nonpartisan Committee for the Study of the American Electorate (CSAE), also says he sees no evidence of anti-incumbent feeling among voters. ``But how it plays out in the House, Senate, governorships, and state legislatures is a little early to tell,'' he says.

Gans says he thinks the Democrats could gain up to 20 seats in the House and one in the Senate. He notes that GOP expectations have shifted from earlier in the year, when party strategists thought the party could hold its own in the House and pick up a few Senate seats.

As the campaigns have progressed, however, several Republican incumbents - notably Sen. Mark Hatfield of Oregon, Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, and Sen. Rudy Boschwitz of Minnesota - have found themselves in tight races. And GOP hopes to unseat Democratic Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois have waned.

A CSAE study of voter-registration figures in 19 states and the District of Columbia, issued last week, confirms a long-term decline in voters registering as Democrats. The survey finds Democrats losing about 2.5 percent in party registration since 1986, while the GOP picked up almost 1 percent.

The Democrats still hold a 33 percent-to-22 percent registration advantage, compared with a 43 percent-to-26 percent in 1962.

The study shows the Republicans gaining in 15 states with the Democrats advancing only in four states and the District of Columbia. Most significantly, Gans says, the GOP picked up ground in every state in the South with partisan registration except Kentucky. ``This shows the increasing respectability of the Republican Party in the South despite an overwhelming Democratic registration advantage,'' he says. He expects that trend toward the GOP to reverse itself in 1992 as the economy declines.

Thirty-six states will elect a governor today; 20 of these posts are currently held by Democrats while Republicans hold 16. The entire US House and 35 Senate seats - 17 held by Democrats and 18 by Republicans - are up for election.

The Democrats have controlled the House since 1954. They were the majority in the Senate from 1954 to 1980, and regained dominance in 1986.

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