Did the George Floyd protests boost Democratic voter registration?

click to enlarge Did the George Floyd protests boost Democratic voter registration?
Young Kwak photo
Demontrators listen to speakers at the Lilac Bowl Amphitheater at Riverfront Park.
Nick Corasaniti and Isabella Grullón Paz
The New York Times Company

In the nationwide protests after the killing of George Floyd in police custody, Democratic leaders held out hope that the sweeping calls for racial justice and structural change would have a decidedly conventional side effect: more people would be motivated to vote in the fall. Activists holding voter registration clipboards became commonplace at protests.

Now, new voter registration data shows that a surge in sign-ups driven by the protests may have indeed rippled across the electorate.

In the first half of June, a month when, during an election year, voter registration normally suffers from a summer lull, more than 520,000 Democrats registered to vote. That’s a nearly 50% increase over the previous month’s total and a rate that outpaced Republicans in nearly every state during those two weeks, according to data compiled by TargetSmart, a Democratic data firm.

Some states, like Wisconsin, still had not reported their registration statistics for June at the time the report was released, meaning the increase is probably larger.

Republican voter registration in the same time period increased just 6%, to 304,000.

The surge was momentary and did not universally change the overall dynamics of voter registration in 2020 — by the end of the month, Republicans had caught up in many red states and some swing states, and the registration numbers for both parties are still well below 2016 levels. And there may have been other factors at work other than the protests: Early June brought an easing of pandemic-related restrictions around the country, such as the reopening of election offices and motor vehicle commissions, which most likely made it easier to register to vote.

Still, the sheer size of the increase during such a specific time — early June — makes it likely that the protests played a significant part in the surge. And however short it lasted, it gives hope to Democrats that they can convert the energy in the streets into votes this fall.

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