A 40-year Democratic slide continued this week as Ventura County voter registration closed for the March 7 primary election, and Republicans celebrated a 2,000-voter gain over the Democrats since Labor Day.
Just 38.6% of the county's 367,096 qualified voters are now Democrats, compared with 60.2% in 1960, when the county was still primarily rural and filled with old Roosevelt and Truman Democrats.
Republicans, meanwhile, have boosted their numbers from 37.6% to 42% over four decades, as the affluent east county has spun out one conservative community after another.
After a six-month registration drive, county Republicans lead Democrats 154,161 to 141,704. That compares with a large Democratic lead in the rest of California.
"It's a reflection of development in Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks and Moorpark," said county election chief Bruce Bradley. "Those cities are heavily Republican."
But even the Republicans have taken a beating locally during the past decade--falling from a peak of 47.5% of voters--as an increasingly independent electorate has bolted from both parties to form new ones, or to become nonpartisan.
Just one in every 50 county voters was not a member of the two major parties in 1960, but today one in every five is independent or belongs to a minor party.
"There's just a tendency on behalf of voters to say they don't like either party," Bradley said. "Maybe they don't see a difference."
That dissatisfaction with the major parties--heightened by the presidential campaign of reformer Ross Perot in 1992--has emerged full blown this season as nearly 15% of all local voters have refused to declare allegiance to any party--major or minor.
The Republicans seem to be working harder to pull them back in.
"We've been putting a lot of effort into it," said Paul Leavens, GOP county Central Committee chairman. "We've had good help from [Rep. Elton] Gallegly, and the Republican Women's Federation and from [Assemblyman] Tony Strickland. And it's all been bird-dogged by the Central Committee."
The result has been an increase in eligible Republican voters of 5,120 since Labor Day. Democratic registration is up 3,122 during the same period.
"They're the only ones with any real activity," Bradley said of the Republicans.
Lawyer Duane Livingston, who analyzes voter trends for the county Democratic Central Committee, said he isn't overly concerned. He said the Democrats had the edge in registration for the six months prior to Labor Day.
"I don't think any party has a clear advantage anymore," he said. "The Republicans have a slight edge countywide, but Democrats have a slight edge in the west county. I don't think any party should be comfortable. The major parties are losing favor nationally and statewide, and this county is kind of a microcosm of that."
Current registration is about 28,000 below the all-time county high of 395,000 voters in the 1998 fall general election. A drop of about 50,000 resulted from a purge of ineligible voters in late 1998.
Registration has risen about 21,000 since then.
And Bradley expects it to climb 33,000 more, to about 400,000 by the general election. Normally the jump from the primary to the general ballots has been 30,000 to 40,000, since many people vote only in presidential elections, he said. It should be larger this year because there is no incumbent president on the ballot, he said.
Bradley expects voter turnout to be 45% in the primary and 75% in the general election, although only 66.4%--a record low for a presidential election--voted in November 1996.
For now, voter registration in Ventura County's eastern portion is:
Moorpark 15,251, including 7,187 Republicans and 5,072 Democrats; Simi Valley 57,800, including 28,252 Republicans and 18,340 Democrats; Thousand Oaks 67,685, including 33,391 Republicans and 21,053 Democrats.
Registration in the west county is:
Camarillo 34,334, including 17,084 Republicans and 11,434 Democrats; Fillmore 5,191, including 2,590 Democrats and 1,662 Republicans; Ojai 4,669, including 1,928 Democrats and 1,762 Republicans; Oxnard 56,345, including 29,723 Democrats and 15,344 Republicans; Port Hueneme 9,129, including 4,077 Democrats and 3,125 Republicans; Santa Paula 10,176, including 5,762 Democrats and 2,828 Republicans; Ventura 58,203, including 23,907 Democrats and 22,521 Republicans.
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Over the last four decades, the Democratic share of registered voters in Ventura County has dropped sharply. The GOP gained an edge in November 1984, and has held it ever since, although voters are increasingly independent.
Source: Ventura County Registrar of Voters