The Republican Party gained more unaffiliated voters in the March primary than Democrats and three times as many Democrats switched to a Republican ballot compared to Republicans switching, according to data released on Tuesday by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.
"The numbers suggest the Republicans benefited from a more engaged and energetic primary when compared to the Democrats," said Mark Caleb Smith, director of Cedarville University's Center for Political Studies. "These numbers, however, do not tell us much more than that. We do not know whether these were temporary decisions due to the unique nature of (Donald) Trump's candidacy and (Ohio Gov. John) Kasich's last stand in Ohio, or whether this is the beginning of a shift for the Republicans."
In Ohio voters do not register with a political party. Instead, party affiliation is determined by which party's ballot the voter chooses in the primary election. Voters who do not wish to affiliate can ask for an issues-only ballot.
Prior to the 2016 primary 810,949 were affiliated with the Democratic Party, 1,267,898 with the Republican Party and 5,473,466 had no affiliation, which people commonly refer to as being an independent.
In March the Republican Party gained 1.03 million newly-affiliated voters, of whom 60,716 were voting for the first time. Those figures include voters previously affiliated with minor parties as well as Democrats. The Democratic Party attracted 747,275 newly-affiliated voters. Husted's office said 58,139 of them were voting for the first time.
"Voter turnout is driven by enthusiasm and interest that groups and candidates can generate for their cause," Husted said.
He said the data is a "snapshot in time" and may not indicate future political leanings of Ohioans.
"We also cannot draw real strong conclusions about how this will turn out in November," Smith said. "The general election electorate is quite different from the primary electorate. It might be tempting to say all of these numbers will turn out well for the GOP in Ohio in November, but there is not enough information here to draw that conclusion."
When the new affiliation numbers are tallied the 3,916,669 unaffiliated voters remain in the majority, illustrating why both parties work so hard to appeal to independents. Republicans now have 2,260,799 affiliated voters in Ohio and Democrats have 1,440,700, according to the data.