Speculation abounds these days about whether this fall's presidential election will produce a dramatically different electoral map than the virtually static one of the last two contests. Will Colorado and Virginia lead an array of longtime Republican states that might be won this time by Democrat Barack Obama? Or might Michigan and Pennsylvania be in the vanguard of Democratic strongholds picked off by Republican John McCain?
Those are among the more intriguing questions as the 2008 general election campaign heats up. But one thing's for sure: changes in the electoral map require some alterations in the electorate itself. And that seems to be happening.
In the 29 states (plus the District of Columbia) where voter affiliation is kept by party, the Democrats have scored perceptible gains since the presidential election of 2004 while the Republicans have suffered significant losses. To be specific, the number of registered Democrats in party registration states has grown by nearly 700,000 since President George W. Bush was reelected in November 2004, while the total of registered Republicans has declined by almost 1 million.
To be sure, the changes have taken place within a huge pool of voters that totals 96 million in the party registration states. In short, even with the loss of nearly a million voters, the number of registered Republicans is still 97 percent as large as it was at the time of President Bush's reelection.
Yet this overall trend--Democrats up, Republicans down--is also mirrored in many of the states that already have been identified as battlegrounds for 2008. And with only a comparative handful of votes needed to swing key states such as Iowa and Nevada the Democrats' way, the latest registration numbers can only fuel the party's considerable optimism.