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Data Download: GOP Registration Advantage May Be Hype

A breakdown of changes in voter registration in key states shows a growing Democratic edge in important counties.
Image: A woman casts her vote in the 2016 Maryland Primary Election
A woman casts her vote in the 2016 Maryland Primary Elections in Rockville, Md., on April 26, 2016.Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump is struggling in the polls, but his unconventional campaign cites one big hope as the fall election season nears: Trump’s ability to bring out a new army of voters to the polls.

Throughout the year the candidate has routinely cited the record number of Republican voters and new Republican voters in the 2016 nominating contests as evidence of his general election strength.

But a look at registrations in some key battleground states suggests Trump’s edge is not as significant as many think and, conversely, his anti-immigration message may be bringing out another set of voters who are keen on voting against him.

Consider five battleground states with large minority populations: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and North Carolina. In all those states the white, non-Hispanic population is under 65 percent and the voter registration stories in them since January is a decidedly mixed bag of news for Trump.

In three states, Arizona, Colorado and Nevada, Democratic registrations in that time have grown more than Republican ones.

NBC News

In the other two states, the news is a bit better for Trump — increases in Florida and North Carolina.

NBC News

But even the good news in those two states needs to be tempered by some other points.

In North Carolina, for instance, the biggest winner in registration since January has been Minority Parties and Unaffiliated voters, those two categories have added some 125,000 voters to the rolls since January.

And while the GOP increase in Florida looks impressive — more than 67,000 more Republicans — remember how big a state Florida is. President Barack Obama barely edged out Mitt Romney in the state in 2012, winning it by less than a point. That less-than-a-point margin actually equalled more than 74,000 votes. In other words, that additional 67,000 voters would be less than one percent of all the votes cast in Florida in 2012.

That’s not to discount those gains. In a close state like Florida every vote can be crucial. But the numbers look a lot less like a groundswell from that perspective.

Digging a little deeper into the registration question in those states suggests Trump’s campaign, and its heavy focus on immigration could be undermining any gains Mr. Trump made in them.

In those five states there are 18 counties with Hispanic populations of greater than 100,000. In 15 of those counties, Democratic registrations showed net gains versus Republican ones. And some of those counties show strong growth in Democratic voter registrations.

NBC News

The point is that the Trump campaign has created a push and pull among different voter groups. While the candidate has reached out to, and won over, many white voters without a bachelor's degree, polls show he message is doing far less well with other voter groups -- including college-educated white voters and minorities.

So, yes, plenty of Republican voters did turnout to vote for Trump in 2016’s GOP primaries and caucuses, but the registration numbers suggest his campaign has not remade the electorate in a dramatic way. And in places with large Hispanic populations, the hurdle for the GOP may be higher than ever.