It is no surprise that Oregon Democrats have a bit of an edge statewide when it comes to the voter registration numbers. On November 1st, 2016 right before Oregonians went to the polls to participate in the 2016 elections Democrats sat at 988,848 members strong, equaling 38.36% of the electorate. In comparison, Republicans stood at 716,953 and 27.81% of registered voters. During the 2016 election Democrats had a 10.55% voter registration edge over their Republican counterparts in Oregon. What is interesting though, is that since the election that gap has narrowed slightly, but consistently.
Given the most recent voter registration numbers in Oregon, the Democrats voter registration over Republicans has eroded 0.79%. By no means substantial numbers, but they consistently trend in the direction of closing the gap. Accord to the Secretary of State’s monthly reports on voter registration, the percentage gap between registered Democrats and Registered Republicans has narrowed every single month except for one. The most recent numbers have Democrats at a 9.76% voter registration edge over Republicans now. So the question is, why is this happening?
Both the Republican and Democratic parties in Oregon have been bleeding voters since the previous election, but the gap is closing because Democrats are bleeding voters at a faster rate. Where Republicans have lost 14,619 voters post-election the Democrats registration numbers have lowered 26,103. Part of that is the simple fact that Oregon Democrats just have more people to lose, so it isn’t surprising that the absolute numbers would be higher. What is interesting is that While Republicans numbers are down 2.03% since the election, Democrats are down 2.63%. Maybe as a result of decades of one-party rule in Oregon those who remain in the Republican Party are more die hard and zealous than the average Democrat. It could be that many Bernie Sanders types in Oregon are leaving the Democratic party because they don’t see it as progressive enough.
The main driver of these moves seems to be the explosion in nonaffiliated voters. Earlier this year NAV passed Republican to become the second largest chunk of registered voters. Right before the election, 26.57% of registered voters were nonaffiliated, now a full 30.35% of registered voters are NAV and another 4.53% belong to the Independent Party of Oregon. We can assume that a large portion of these new nonaffiliated voters are from the Motor Voter population being automatically registered as a NAV if they do not select a party when renewing their license at the DMV. The majority of people registered to vote under Motor Voter are registered as unaffiliated, somewhere around 78% according to the Secretary of State’s website. While the IPO’s growth over the last year has not been as dramatic as the NAVs, they have added 1,328 voters to their numbers in a time when the Democrats and Republicans are losing voters.
Maybe coordinated voter registration drive efforts will change this trend as the 2018 elections approach, but at least over the course of the last year it seems people have been fleeing the two major parties, they are just fleeing the Democrats faster than the Republicans. 0.79% difference may not seem like a big deal, but politics like football can be a game of inches. Considering Chris Dudley came within 1.5% of defeating John Kitzhaber in 2010, in the right situation that 0.79% could make all the difference.
Jacob Vandever is political activist, lifelong Oregonian, and proud Oregon State graduate.