Election 2020

Voter registration in Philly was higher than 2016 — until the pandemic hit

Democratic signups outnumbered Republicans, but not as much as past years.

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Billy Penn illustration
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Philly voter registration was on track to outpace previous presidential election years before the coronavirus slowed momentum, according to data from the City Commissioners.

A Billy Penn analysis shows more people signed up to vote this year before the pre-pandemic primary deadline than during the same period in either 2016 or 2012. From January through late March, more than 16,000 new voters signed up — a 20% increase over four years ago.

The original primary voter registration deadlines for the 2020, 2016 and 2012 presidential primaries were March 30, March 28 and March 25, respectively.

After a spike in January this year, registration started trending down during the first two weeks of March, around the time COVID-19 began sweeping through the region.

Days before Pennsylvania’s original 2020 registration deadline, Gov. Wolf signed an order extending it to May 18. Primary election day was pushed from April 28 to June 2. Even with the extra time, and the fact that registration can be done online, quarantines and social distancing appear to have dampened participation.

The commissioners office usually puts a pause on processing registrations the week before and after the April primary, a spokesperson said, so we compared registration data through mid-April.

Overall, new voter signups by that point came in at a volume around 68% of the previous presidential election.

What party were people declaring when they signed up? Among all voters in Philadelphia, Democrats outnumber Republicans 7 to 1. While new registrations followed the same trend, the gap in party affiliations was not as pronounced this year as in the past.

From January through mid-April this year, Dem registrants outnumbered GOP about 5.5 to 1. That compares to a 6 to 1 ratio in 2016 during the same time period, and about 7 to 1 in 2012.

In 2012, voter turnout and registration dwindled around the country as former President Barack Obama coasted to a second term victory. Still, those registration numbers were driven by young people locally.  More than half of all newly registered voters were too young to have voted in the primary.

Were young folks part of the surge this year?

The number of newly registered first time presidential primary voters — that is, people who weren’t old enough to vote in the primary but were old enough to vote in the general — was on par with 2016. But it did outpace first-timers who signed up in 2012.

The overall rate of youth engagement, however, appears to be down .

First time primary voters account for 27% of total new voters this year so far, compared to 33% in 2016 and 47% in 2012 over the same time period.

Want some more? Explore other Election 2020 stories.

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