Over 36,000 Florida Republicans leave GOP after election, voter records show

Republican Party of Florida chairman downplays defections

ORLANDO, Fla. – More than 36,000 Florida voters previously registered as Republicans have left the GOP since the November election, a News 6 review of state voter records has revealed.

Although three times as many Republicans changed their party affiliation than Democrats post-election, the 57,000-plus Floridians who recently switched political parties are a small fraction of the state’s 14.5 million registered voters.

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Several former Republicans cited the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol as a factor in their decision to abandon the party, while others expressed frustration that some GOP leaders did not support former President Donald Trump as much as they would have preferred.

“(Changing party affiliation) gives people a feeling they’ve somehow protested,” said News 6 political analyst Jim Clark, a University of Central Florida history professor. “It’s not going to make any difference at all in an election.”

State GOP leaders downplayed the recent defections, believing that most former Republican voters will eventually return.

“It’s not that big of a deal,” said Joe Gruters, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. “I think these people will end up voting for the Republican candidate at the end of the day because, when they registered as a Republican, they believed in the core principles of personal responsibility and individual freedom.”

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FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2021 file photo insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump riot outside the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

In the past, voters had to visit their county’s Supervisor of Elections office to change their party affiliation. About three years ago, the state began allowing voters to update their registration information online.

“It’s extremely easy to do,” Clark said. “So if you’re upset with your political party today, you can join another one tomorrow. And then join another one the next day.”

The highest volume of voters changing party affiliation typically occurs just before the final day to register to vote before primary elections, according to Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles, followed by the period after an election.

But this year, Orange County saw a higher-than-usual volume of post-election party changes.

“The switching was more extreme due to the attack on the Capitol on January 6,” Cowles said.

News 6 spoke with about a dozen former Republicans who changed their party affiliation after the election.

Nearly all declined to be quoted by name, citing concerns about their personal safety.

“They’re dangerous. You saw what they did to the Capitol,” said one man who claimed he had been a Republican since 1988.

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In this Feb. 2, 2021 file photo, acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman pays respects to U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

“I’m a Republican in my heart, but I’m registered as a Democrat,” he said. “The party doesn’t represent decency anymore, in my opinion. I’m completely blown away by this fanatical belief in (Trump).”

Another former Republican voter, who requested anonymity due to concerns about his family’s safety, also blamed the former president for his decision to switch his voter registration to No Party Affiliation.

“I honestly felt like Donald Trump had something to do with those people storming the Capitol,” the U.S. Marine Corps veteran told News 6. “Once I witnessed that, I decided I did not want to be part of this party anymore.”

But other Florida voters who left the GOP expressed frustration that fellow Republicans did not do more to back Trump.

“The reason I switched was my anger toward the Republican Party for not fighting for the people that voted for them and to get to the bottom of the accusations of election fraud,” said John Howley. “I will not rejoin the party until they learn how to fight for their constituents. At least the Democrats fight, even though I disagree with 99% of their ideas.”

The Republican Party of Florida has heard similar concerns.

“We’ve basically tracked all of the data and all of the people that are switching (parties),” Gruters said. “Most of them are voters who were upset that maybe we weren’t as supportive of the president as we should have.”

Nearly 10,100 Democrats switched their party affiliation from Nov. 30 to Jan. 31, state voter registration records show.

A Florida man who was arrested during the riot at the Capitol earlier this year is asking to be released on bond, claiming that he never engaged in any violence and he was just following former President Donald Trump’s directions.

During that same period, 36,219 Republicans changed parties.

About 6,200 of those former Republicans are now registered as Democrats, records show.

Meanwhile, more than 21,000 former Republicans recently registered as No Party Affiliation.

Only Florida voters registered with a political party can participate in that party’s primary elections.

“These people are not going to want to give up their vote,” Clark said. “A lot of them will return to their respective parties next year when the primaries heat up. And even if you have gone from Republican to non-politically affiliated, it doesn’t mean in the general election you’d vote for the Democrat.”

Registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans in Florida by less than 111,000 as of Jan. 31, according to the state’s Division of Elections.

Gruters said the Republican Party of Florida is launching voter registration efforts to win back those who recently left the party while recruiting newcomers to the state.

“I think we will overtake the Democrats sometime this year here in Florida. We’re focused on turning Florida red permanently,” Gruters said. “The benefit that we have is the thousands of people who are fleeing these high tax liberal states that have been shut down in pursuit of freedom and liberty.”

More than 126,000 Florida Democrats changed their party affiliation to Republican in the two years leading up to the November 2020 election, News 6 previously reported, while 72,000 Republicans switched to the Democratic Party.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.