A few days ago, I came across this line graph showing voter registration trends in Oklahoma. This graph shows a trend of disenfranchisement in the Democratic Party, growth within the Republican Party, a near flat lining of Independent voters over the course of about 16 years. This got me thinking about elections in Oklahoma and how these numbers correlate to actual voter turnout. It also had me thinking of just how much power the independent voter has in the Oklahoma election.
As you can see from this graph, Independent voters equal to about 11% of the potential voting pool. Democrats represent 47%. Republicans represent 41%. But actual election results paint a far different picture. One in which election results do not match voter registration at all.
I am going to look at the last 3 Presidential elections. In each of these elections, the Republican candidate won in Oklahoma despite being outnumbered by Democrats alone. Yet, in each of these elections, the voter turnout was far lower than the total registration numbers. So let’s start in 2000.
2000 Presidential Election
The 2000 Presidential election is the only one of the three we will be visiting here that was not limited to 2 choices. This election actually had four candidates that Oklahoma voters could choose from. However, the results from this election did not deviate much from the trends shown when viewing the last 3. Here are the results:
- George W. Bush (Rep) – 744,337 votes
- Al Gore (Dem) – 474,276 votes
- Patrick Buchanan (Ref) – 9,014 votes
- Harry Browne (Lib)- 6,602 votes
- Total Votes Cast – 1,234,229
Now, let’s look at the voter registration numbers as of January 2000:
- Democratic Party – 1,189,332
- Republican Party – 734,382
- Independent – 174,649
- Libertarian Party – 267
- Reform Party – 120
- Total Registration – 2,098,750
As you can see from the numbers, there is an almost complete lack of any correlation between registration and voter turn out. The only numbers that make any bit of sense is that of the Republican Party and the two minor parties on the ballot. However, It is quite likely that not all those who registered as Republican voted at all. So much of those votes cast could have come from registered Democrats and Independents. What we can see clearly is that only 58.8% of those registered actually voted.
2004 Presidential Election
The 2004 Presidential election returns us to a cycle in which Oklahoma voters were limited to two choices for President. However, even with this significant change, the election results were not too indifferent from that of 2000. Here are the results:
- George W. Bush (Rep) – 959,792 votes
- John Kerry (Dem) – 503,966 votes
- Total Votes Cast – 1,463,758
Now, let’s look at the voter registration numbers as of January 2004:
- Democratic Party – 1,022,442
- Republican Party – 720,121
- Independent – 195,334
- Libertarian Party – 455
- Reform Party – 25
- Total Registration – 1,938,377
Surprisingly, we see far fewer registrations that year than we did 4 years prior. We can also see that the total number of voters jumped from 58.8% in 2000 to 75.5%. The loss of 160,373 voters over the course of 4 years does not correlate here either. It seems that there was a generally greater interest in the Presidential election that year.
2008 Presidential Election
The 2008 election continues the cycle of only 2 choices for President. However, this is the first of the 3 elections in which the candidate chosen by Oklahoman voters did not win the General Election. Here are the Results:
- John McCain (Rep) – 960,165 votes
- Barack Obama (Dem) – 502,496 votes
- Total Votes Cast – 1,462,661
Now, let’s look at the voter registration numbers as of January 2008:
- Democratic Party – 1,012,594
- Republican Party – 790,713
- Independent – 219,230
- Total Registration – 2,022,537
You will note that from the previous election, there was very little change in voter turn out. We also see that the Reform and Libertarian Parties were officially dropped from party status. Voters registered under those parties were reassigned to Independent. This time we see a 72.3% turn out rate, meaning the increase in registered voters did not correlate with voter turn out.
2012 Presidential Election
As we move into the 2012 election season, Oklahomans will be treated with not 2 but 3 Presidential options. If all goes as planned, the Americans Elect Party will have Gary Johnson as its candidate on the Oklahoma ballot. In anticipation of this election, we will use current voter registration numbers and the data from previous elections to hopefully predict what the turn out and results might be.
2012 Registration Numbers
Here are the voter registration numbers as of January 2012:
- Democratic Party – 943,283
- Republican Party – 828,257
- Independent – 229,070
- Total Registration – 2,000,610
As you can see, we have seen a slight drop from 4 years prior in total number of registered voters. You can also see some considerable change in the numbers of registered Democrats and Republicans. Democrats continue to lose members and Republicans continue to gain. Keep in mind that these numbers reflect voter registrations in January. Since then, the Americans Elect Party has gained official state recognition and there has been some change. According to recent reports the numbers are as follows:
- Democratic Party – 942,388
- Republican Party – 850,560
- Americans Elect Party – 5
- Independent – 234,141
Even this does not paint a full picture as there are technically more than 5 members of the Americans Elect Party at this time. However, it is still reflective of major trends in the election. As you can see from these numbers, in just a few months, the Republican Party gained 22,000 members. This is probably due to high demand in Oklahoma to unseat Obama.
2012 Presidential Election Predictions
So what does this meant for the coming election? What will we see as the turn out? For this we will look at the previous elections and see where trends lie. If we just look at the last two elections we can expect a roughly 73-75% voter turn out in which the Republican candidate will win by a ratio of nearly 2:1. With a third candidate on the ballot, if previous trends are to be followed, I don’t see that win ratio changing much. Looking back at the 2000 election, the ratio was closer to 1.5:1 when combining Democratic, Libertarian and Reform votes.
So my question at this time is, what would happen to the election if all registered Independents voted that way? What would happen if all registered Independents voted for Gary Johnson? First, Johnson would not win Oklahoma on the Independent vote alone. However, it could shake things up. I am going to make some assumptions on the minds of voters here. Let’s say that voter turnout will be 75% following the current trends. We will spread that evenly among all party registrations. Meaning 75% of registered voters in each party and Independents vote in the election. So this is the hypothetical voter turnout, based on the second set of registration numbers (adding 5 more Americans Elect members to accommodate more recent changes):
- Democratic Party – 706,791
- Republican Party – 637,920
- Americans Elect Party – 7
- Independent – 175,605
- Total Votes Cast – 1,520,323
Since Republicans have won the last 3 Presidential elections in Oklahoma, It is clear that a number of Independent and Democratic voters crossed party lines to vote for the Republican candidate. Which means that somewhere along the lines of 137,000 or more Democrats vote Republican and nearly all Independent voters vote Republican.
If we base predictions on the 2000 election, we could see a minority of votes going to Gary Johnson. Since that election saw a much lower voter turn out than the last two, it doesn’t follow those trends. But it can be something we can learn by. In that election, 15,616 voters voted for the Reform and Libertarian candidates combined. That is roughly 1.3% of the total votes cast. If we adjust that up while keeping a grounded view, we could say that in today’s election climate 3.3% would vote for Gary Johnson. We would see this spread:
- Republican Candidate – 999,639
- Barack Obama – 500,920
- Gary Johnson – 19,764
This brings us back to that near 2:1 win ratio for the Republican Candidate. Back to the same ole, same ole. In this case, the Americans Elect Party will not receive enough votes to retain party qualification in the state and third parties will be back where they were before. Nothing will have changed, Oklahoma will still have no real effect on the national election.
However, if all Independent and Americans Elect Party Members vote for Gary Johnson we have the following spread:
- Republican Candidate – 843,791
- Barack Obama – 500,920
- Gary Johnson – 175,612
In this situation, The Republican candidate will still win Oklahoma. However, Gary Johnson would have helped the Americans Elect Party to retain official party status in Oklahoma, having received 11.5% of the vote. This would be a major victory for a third party in Oklahoma on its own. Very few parties have been able to remain ballot qualified since the ballot access process was changed in 1974.
Of course the absolute best case scenario would be for Gary Johnson to win Oklahoma. This would take some effort in getting disenfranchised Democrats and Republicans to vote for him. If those 137,000 Democrats and a similar percentage of Republicans, about 21.5% or 151,960 voters, (View the Primary results for the potential number of disenfranchised Republicans) voted for Johnson we could see a much closer race.
- Republican Candidate – 554,831
- Barack Obama – 500,920
- Gary Johnson – 464,572
Even in this scenario, the Republican candidate would still win, but by a much narrower margin. For Gary Johnson to win completely, he would need to pull far more votes from both the Republican Candidate and Obama. At this time, I find this scenario to be the least likely, but still a good thing to hope for.
So this is my suggestion to all registered Independents and disenfranchised Republicans and Democrats in Oklahoma. If you are going to vote, vote for Gary Johnson. Don’t listen to the naysayers who claim you are “voting for Obama.” Oklahoma probably still won’t go to Obama at all. Oklahoma hasn’t gone to a Democrat in many many years. However, voting for Gary Johnson will spark a huge change in Oklahoma election history in which a 3rd party becomes a viable option and a force for change on a state level. That is one of the best things that could happen. If by some chance, a significant portion of Republicans and Democrats decide to join in on the vote for Gary Johnson and he wins the state, even better for Oklahoma.
So again, don’t vote against your fears, vote your conscience. Vote Gary Johnson for President. That is the only way to truly win.