2012 Election Analysis: Obama and Oklahoma Democrats
The simplest way to explain Pres. Barack Obama’s unpopularity in Oklahoma is a left-of-center, Harvard-educated, Chicago-politician doesn’t fit in with the Okie style of politics. But is it Obama or a symptom of a larger disease wiping out a Democrat’s chances of taking Oklahoma’s electoral votes?
Consider this: Obama's vote percentage in the most recent SoonerPoll was 29%. In comparison to the Tulsa World's Oklahoma Poll results over the last two decades, that's lower than Pres. Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal or Gov. David Walters' midnight court arraignments over campaign finance charges. And yet, Pres. Obama has not been involved in a similar scandal or charged with a crime.
It is no longer a secret how much Oklahoma voters disapprove of Obama. Even national political pundits know the Sooner state ranks at the top of the states Obama is least likely to win this November. The latest SoonerPoll results of the president’s popularity show him losing to Republican Mitt Romney by nearly 30 points. Since he became president, Obama has never had more than 34 percent of Oklahomans approving the job he has done in the White House.
The president’s in-state numbers show he doesn’t just have problems with moderate and independent voters, but nearly half of voters in the President’s own Democratic Party are not keen with him. The SoonerPoll survey found only 54 percent of Democrats in the poll said they will vote for Obama. During the state’s primary election in June, Obama barely had more than 50 percent of Oklahoma Democrats’ vote for him.
So the question persists: is it the President or is there something else causing even Oklahoma Democrats to shy away from their leader?
Terry Endsley, who participated in the poll, has been a registered Democrat his entire voting life down in a traditional Democrat strong-hold of McCurtain County. He says the reason he is voting for Romney is not just because of Obama.
“I don’t like the Democratic leadership,” Endsley said. “Obama, (Nancy) Pelosi, (Harry) Reid, I don’t like any of them.”
Endsley said he votes for the person, not the party, but is increasingly finding himself siding with Republicans more than his registered party. The last Democrat he remembers supporting for president was Bill Clinton. That was 16 years ago.
"It's been decades in the making, but more and more Democrats in Oklahoma have subtlety described their move away from voting for the Democratic candidate as 'voting for the person and not the party,'" said Bill Shapard, CEO of SoonerPoll.com. "There was a time when Democratic leaders would encourage voters to 'pull the rooster tail,' in essence voting straight-party Democrat. Those days of getting registered Democrats to do it seem to be gone."
Dr. Jeanette Mendez, head of the Political Science Department at Oklahoma State University, defines it as an identification issue. "Oklahoma once had strong ties with the Democratic party and the change to voting Republican has occurred in the last few decades," said Dr. Mendez, "but people have not necessarily changed their party identification. "
Perhaps the tectonic plates of party identification and registration, that have been slowly moving for decades, have moved enough for us to see a more measurable change. But, has the convergence of conservatism and the GOP become permanent,and can or will it ever move back?
"Oklahoma is a conservative state, and I think this is intensifying," said Mendez. "We see Republicans in Oklahoma gain in the state House and Senate, and I think these gains start to show why Obama has a few points lower support overall than in 2008."
And then there is Oklahoma's largest industry, oil and natural gas. By no means can Obama be considered 'friendly' to an industry that surveys have shown many Oklahomans recognize as a major employer of high paying jobs in the state and its impact on the Oklahoma economy.
"The President is more than just hostile to the oil and gas industry," said Mike Cantrell, Co-Founder of OERB and VP of Governmental Affairs with Continental Resources in Oklahoma City. "If he could rid the U.S. of all fossil fuels, he would, putting thousands of Oklahomans directly out of a job and thousands even more indirectly out of one."
Cantrell credits the OERB, Oklahoma Energy Resource Board, as the reason more and more Oklahomans see the importance of oil and gas to the state, noting that just 15 years ago many Oklahomans were simply unaware of the economic impact of the industry on the state. "Oklahomans are voting today with more information than ever, knowing more of what directly would impact their families and which candidates support or oppose those issues."
Pat Hall, former State Democratic Party Chairman, believes Obama's number will improve and that this will surprise a lot of Oklahomans.
"By November 6, women, African Americans and Latinos especially in urban areas along with moderate Democrats," said Hall, "will become more educated on the candidates and vote to re-elect President Obama. But," Hall concedes, "the seven electoral votes from Oklahoma will be cast for Governor Romney.”
Hall is not alone in his assessment and the numbers may prove him right. The Hispanic and Latino community is the fastest growing population in Oklahoma as reported from the 2012 census, Romney has had a difficult time appealing to women, and African Americans set a turnout record in 2008 for Obama, which can be underestimated this year in polling turnout projections.
Dr. Mendez went on to note that there is a lot left in the campaign and Oklahoma has quite a few independents. "These independents can bridge the gap to bring Obama's numbers closer to what they were in 2008," said Mendez. "But based on what is shown here and the trends in the state elections in 2008 and 2010, Obama will not do better than he did in 2008, and most likely will do worse."
Turnout and enthusiasm are always critical elements for Election Day. In 2010, both were on the side of Republicans who gained a complete sweep of every statewide office, as well as adding to its majorities in the State House and Senate. While it was widely argued that the 2010 election was a referendum on President Obama, he was, nonetheless, not on the ballot and African American voters may now meet or exceed this November the record turnout in 2008.
In nationwide polling so far, enthusiasm however seems to be on the side of Republicans, but there is still a lot of time on clock until Election Day for that to change.
Dr. Richard Johnson, Chair of the Political Science Department at Oklahoma City University, questions whether Oklahomans are more pro-Romney or just anti-Obama.
Oklahoma is among the most conservative states in the country and voting trends favor Republicans generally in Oklahoma," said Johnson. "But, the question is, do the results reflect an endorsement of Governor Romney or a repudiation of President Obama?"
Another poll participant put it this way. Clint Johnson, a Democrat in one of the party’s last remaining comfort zones of Cherokee County, said he is choosing Romney as the lesser of two evils. “I think we’re screwed either way,” he said.
Bill Clinton was also the last Democratic presidential candidate to get Johnson’s vote. He feels the party has left him. “The Democratic Party of 10 years ago is not the same Democratic Party today,” Johnson said.
Oklahoma Political Experts
“Governor Romney will win Oklahoma and I trust the results of the Sooner Poll when it comes to the Presidential preference in 2012 for those Oklahoma ‘likely voters’ over 45 years of age that are white. I think President Obama will surprise a lot of Oklahomans on election day. I believe that this excellent poll can only give a snapshot in time of where younger voters, African American voters and Latino voters are today and sadly too few of them are willing to be surveyed. By November 6th women, African Americans and Latinos especially in urban areas along with moderate Democrats will become more educated on the candidates and vote to re-elect President Obama. But, the seven electoral votes from Oklahoma will be cast for Governor Romney.” -- Pat Hall, former State Democratic Party Chairman
"I would have to say that I am not shocked by the polling results. Oklahoma is among the most conservative states in the country and Governor Romney is much closer to most Oklahomans on issues and ideology than President Obama. Voting trends favor Republicans generally in Oklahoma and the current president failed to carry a single county in Oklahoma when he ran for his first term in 2008. The question is, do the results reflect an endorsement of Governor Romney or a repudiation of President Obama?" -- Dr. Richard Johnson, Chair for the Department of Political Science at Oklahoma City University
"There is an identification issue. Oklahoma once had strong ties with the Democratic Party and the change to voting Republican has occurred in the last few decades, but people have not necessarily changed their party identification. Among those identifying themselves as very liberal or somewhat liberal, Obama polls very well. Another 153 report being moderate and it looks like the moderates are in fact Democrats. However, combing liberal and moderate still falls short of the total number of people who say they are Democrats. Based on this, I don’t find it surprising to see Democrats voting for Obama, because it looks like the Democrats might not be traditional Democrats.
Oklahoma is a conservative state. Being the only state in the nation to have all counties vote for McCain shows how conservative Oklahoma is. And I think this is intensifying. We see Republicans in Oklahoma gain in the state House and Senate, and I think these gains start to show why Obama has a few points lower support overall than in 2008.
Obama polls well among most of the groups people who identify as the Democratic base, in particular those 18-24, African Americans and those with income below $25,000. If you look at the income distribution in Oklahoma with respect to party, Eastern Oklahoma stands out with higher rates of poverty, and also more Democrats elected to the state House and Senate and Congress compared to the rest of Oklahoma. Given this, I would expect a certain amount of support for Obama, and much of it in urban areas and Eastern Oklahoma.
There is a lot left in the campaign and Oklahoma has quite a few independents. These independents can bridge the gap to bring Obama's numbers closer to what they were in 2008. But based on what is shown here and the trends in the state elections in 2008 and 2010, Obama will not do better than he did in 2008, and most likely will do worse." -- Dr. Jeanette Mendez, Political Science Department Head at Oklahoma State University
"The President is more than just hostile to the oil and gas industry. If he could rid the U.S. of all fossil fuels, he would, putting thousands of Oklahomans directly out of a job and thousands even more indirectly out of one. The President has not shied away from using any and every department of his administration to further regulate the oil and gas industry, pushing production down and prices at the pump up.
The OERB, Oklahoma Energy Resource Board, is the reason more and more Oklahomans see the importance of oil and gas to the state, which has spent nearly two decades educating the public of the economic impact of the industry on the state. Oklahomans are voting today with more information than ever, knowing more of what directly would impact their families and their jobs, and which candidates support or oppose those issues." -- Mike Cantrell, Co-Founder of OERB and VP of Governmental Affairs with Continental Resources