An early voting sign is displayed at the Lawrence Country...

An early voting sign is displayed at the Lawrence Country Club on Oct. 25, 2020. Despite lower registration numbers, Republicans turn out more steadily for all elections. Democrats, on the other hand, tend to turn out more heavily for elections in presidential years. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

ALBANY — When it comes to losing enrolled Republicans over the last six years, almost no New York county tops Nassau.

New state voter enrollment statistics show Nassau shed nearly 25,720 Republicans since April 2016, around the time Donald Trump had seized control of the race to win the GOP presidential nomination.

Only Manhattan (New York County) lost more — and just barely, 25,903.

Over the same period, the number of Nassau voters affiliated with no political party grew by nearly 29,000 and Democrats surged by 15,000. The Democratic growth in the county somewhat matches the rate of Democratic enrollment growth statewide.

While the increase of Democrats in the county has been a long-term trend over several decades, the loss in GOP ranks is still notable in part because it was often called the vaunted Nassau Republican machine — the county Ronald Reagan once likened to heaven on earth for Republicans.

It coincides with a slow growth statewide in Republican ranks compared with a boom in enrollments of Democratic and independent voters.

Statewide, over the six-year period, Republican enrollment grew by 90,803 compared with 660,944 for Democrats and 461,333 for voters enrolled in no party.

Suffolk County showed similar trends — bigger gains for Democrats and independents — though not as dramatic as Nassau.

Since 2016, Democrats in Suffolk increased 47,995, Republicans 16,713 and independents 39,164.

Analysts said the numbers, including in Nassau, could be the result of several trends: New Yorkers moving out of state, an increasing number of minority voters who don’t tend to enroll as Republicans, a growing share nationally of voters who don’t enroll in any party and Republicans leaving the party after Trump became the face of it.

"It’s a combination of demographics and ideology," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies.

Demographically, the fastest-growing group of people on Long Island and nationally is people of color, Levy said, who generally don’t register Republican.

"Ideologically, a lot of Long Island voters who had been moderates who would vote for a Democrat from time to time were turned off by the more strident conservatism, particularly on social issues, which was amplified by the Trump presidency," Levy said.

Statewide, Republicans now are down to 22% of New York’s electorate and are now outnumbered by nonaffiliated voters: 2.6 million Republicans; 2.7 million independents. Democrats number 5.9 million.

Nassau Republican Chairman Joe Cairo acknowledged the GOP enrollment losses but said the party has been able to appeal to independent voters to spark wins, such as in last year's local elections. He also believes the Republican Party is better at winning crossover votes from Democrats in local elections than vice versa.

"Obviously, I would like more people to enroll in the Republican Party and obviously that hasn’t happened," Cairo said in an interview. "We’ve gone down a few percent and I realize that. But it’s not enrollment that counts, it’s [turnout] on Election Day."

The fact that Republicans won Nassau’s high-profile local races in 2021 — county executive, district attorney — suggests that even if voters left the party during the Trump tenure, they still supported local GOP candidates.

They also could be influenced by national trends, which favored Republicans last year.

"I think we did very well last year with independent voters and I think that’s what counts," Cairo said. "And while I’d like more Republicans, and would like everyone to enroll Republican, that’s never going to happen. It’s truly what happens on Election Day … and we showed that last year."

Michael Dawidziak, a Suffolk County political consultant who works mostly with Republicans, said swing voters on Long Island last year pushed back on a Democratic-dominated, progressive agenda in Albany, but their support of Democrats or Republicans can vary year to year depending on the issues of the moment.

Dawidziak also said registration numbers don’t tell as much as turnout.

Since the 1993 adoption of the federal "motor voter law," which increased opportunities to register through state motor vehicle agencies, he said registrations often outpace election turnout — in other words, more and more people register but that doesn’t mean they go to the polls each year.

And, generally speaking, enrolled Democrat turnout is high in presidential election years but lower in others while Republican turnout is steadier. That can help the GOP win in off-year elections in New York despite the enrollment disadvantage.

That said, the registration trend since Trump should concern the GOP, Dawidziak said.

"My concern would be is my party acceptable to moderates in the middle?" he said.

Levy, on a similar note, said the party should be concerned about a "continued increase in the types of voters who are, right now, turned off" by the GOP.

But he said Democrats also have concerns. Among them, making the enrollment edge pay off in years when there is no presidential election.

"The challenge for Democrats is to take this enrollment edge," Levy said, "and persuade new Democratic voters they should pay attention to county and town and other local races."

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