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What's Behind The Drop In Registered Voters For Oregon Democrats And The GOP?


Oregon data shows a declining number of registered voters who identify with either of the two major political parties.  It's a trend that the data shows steadily trickling downward since at least 2016.

Statewide, there’s a 2 percent drop in people who’ve registered as “Democrat” or “Republican” since November 2016. 

By contrast, “non-affiliated” voters shot up 28 percent in the same period.

Data.Oregon.Gov website
A graph from Oregon's online data site shows Democrats (blue line) and Republicans (red line) showing downward slides in terms of registered voters, while non-affiliated voters (gray) has dramatically increased by comparison from November 2016 to August 2019.

In Lane County, Democrats are seeing a nearly 5 percent drop in those voters identified with their party.  The GOP’s loss was just over 3 percent.  Non-affiliated voters match the rise seen across Oregon.

For Multnomah County, registered voters fell more than 3 percent for Democrats, and nearly 9 percent for Republicans. Non-affiliates there rose nearly 27 percent.

At a glance, the trend would suggest Oregon voters are shifting away from the two main political parties, and have been since the year of President Trump’s surprise presidential victory.

But Bill Lunch, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at OSU, says this trend is less about dissatisfaction with the parties, and more about Oregon’s automatic voter registration that began three years ago. Someone gets registered by simply renewing a driver’s license, for example.

“They’re sent a post card that says ‘If you would like to register with one of the parties…’ --Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, etc. – ‘you can do that’,” explains Lunch.  

“But the majority of those folks - well over 90 percent- do not return the postcard.  They stay registered as a voter, but as ‘non-affiliated’.”

“So…there are hundreds of thousands of people registered through this automatic registration system.” 

Lunch adds that the kind of folks who weren't registered previously are simply not interested in the political system, or voting.  That indifference or apathy translates to a distortion in the data for voter registration across Oregon.

Lunch says there are registered voters who are deliberate with stating their party affiliation. These tend to be politically active residents in their 20s and 30s, or older ones that have settled upon their political preference after many years of deliberation. 

Copyright 2019.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.