Registering as an independent or "no party preference" does not necessarily reveal much about voter preferences. Philip Reese reports at the Sac Bee that a surge in NPP registration was largely an artifact of the process:
In the mid-2010s, California passed a “motor voter” law that automatically registered people getting a driver’s license or ID at the DMV, as well as those changing their address — unless they opted out of registration.
Voter registration boomed, rising by nearly 5 million, or 28%, from January 2016 to October 2023.
At first, a huge proportion of the new voters registered as “no party preference.”
When [Paul] Mitchell explored why, he noticed that the DMVs registration form asked residents if they wanted to pick a political party. If they answered “yes,” it would take them to another page where they would choose their party.
“You had to actively say, ‘I want a party,’” he said.
The problem, Mitchell and others said, is that many people don’t like standing in front of a computer at the DMV. To get away quickly, many chose “no.”
“The default dumped them into this big pit of no party preference voters,” said Wesley Hussey, professor of political science at Sacramento State.
The DMV changed the process in 2019, Mitchell said. Instead of asking voters if they wanted to pick a party and then asking them to pick a particular party on a new screen, the DMV created a dropdown menu that immediately allowed voters to choose a party. “Republican” and “Democrat” were on the dropdown list, along with third parties. Voters also have a nearby option for “no party preference.”
The effects were immediate.
In December 2018, before the change went into effect, about 53% of voters who registered at the DMV signed up as Democrats or Republicans, according to registration data collected by Mitchell. Three months later, after the change went into effect, that figure jumped to 74%. The shift has mostly held. During the first ten months of 2023, about 70% of voters registered as either Democrats or Republicans. A DMV spokesman said that the agency “streamlined the political party selection process” in 2019 based on feedback from the Secretary of State.