Democratic Party ID declines, Oklahoma follows national trend
Though Democrats still outnumber Republicans in the state of Oklahoma, a study of SoonerPoll conducted over the past 6 years reveals that the gap is narrowing. When SoonerPoll began polling Party Identification in 2005, Democrats had a 20.5-point advantage over Republicans. A poll conducted in January of this year, finds that advantage at just 1.4 points.
Polling data shows that the Democratic advantage in Oklahoma remained relatively high through the Nov. 2008 election, before falling sharply as the Nov. 2010 elections neared. In October of 2008, the Democratic Party held a 12.8-point advantage, by October of 2010 that lead had fallen to only 1 point, the lowest advantage on record at SoonerPoll.
This decline in Democratic Party ID is not Oklahoma specific; in fact, Gallup poll numbers show that on a national level Democratic Party ID has reached a 22 year low. Though the Democrats are losing party identifiers, Gallup numbers reveal that these identifiers are not all moving to identify with the Republican Party.
Though the Republican Party has picked up some former Democratic identifiers, most seem to be identifying themselves as Independents. In Oklahoma, we have not seen any shifts in the number of Independents since we began polling. One explanation is that in Oklahoma, Independent voters cannot participate in primary elections, while many other states allow Independents to choose which primary ballot they would like to vote on.
Because of this Independent factor, it is helpful to compare Oklahoma's results to Gallup's national party identification numbers that include Independent leanings, shown above. When Independents in Gallup's poll reveal which party they identify with most, the Democratic advantage over the Republican Party shrinks to 1 point; the same advantage as in Oklahoma.
Though there was a slight widening of the gap in SoonerPoll's first poll following the 2010 elections, it was not significant enough to make inferences as to the future. Time will tell whether the narrowing of the Democratic advantage was an isolated event resulting from the economic and political climate of the last two years or a shift with long term implications that will effect state politics for years to come.
Many of these results came from The Oklahoma Poll commissioned by The Tulsa World.