Oregon voter registration is up but not for the major parties
The Republican and Democratic parties will need to do some work to bolster their registration numbers. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
The midway point between the midterm election of 2022 and the presidential election of 2024 makes for a useful benchmark for examining the hardest political numbers, outside of actual elections, Oregon has to offer: Its voter registration statistics.
They tell a story of rise and fall, but not between Democrats and Republicans: Rather, between those willing to identify with a party and those who are not.
Overall, Oregon voter registration over the last five years has been growing steadily, in line with the population and maybe beyond that – from October 2018 to now it grew 8.4% – to just under three million people statewide or 2,999,871 to be exact. Picking numbers from monthly reports in October or September of each year avoids upticks in the parties from people who only temporarily switch to vote in a contested primary, and comes before the point when general election ballots are sent out.
Even then, the growth has not been even, and some categories of voters showed sharp declines.
Part of the political story of 2024 will be told in how that roller coaster is shaped next.
All of Oregon’s counties except the smallest, Wheeler, grew their voter registrations over the last five years, but some much more than others. The three fastest were Crook, Jefferson and Morrow, not among the top suspects for developing big electorates. Because of their small sizes, they don’t change the picture drastically. Oregon’s largest county, Multnomah, was one of the slowest growers. Registration declined some years, but is now up 5.1%.
Much more striking has been the roller coaster of party registration in the last few years.
Democratic Party registration this month stands at 998,380, which is almost 15,000 lower than in 2022, which was 13,000 lower than in 2021, which was a stunning 30,000 lower than in 2020. That’s not a happy trend line for the party. But there are some mitigating factors.
One of those happened just before those years: During the year leading up to the 2020 election, Democratic registration grew by a whopping 82,277. Considering that increase and the more gradual erosion in the years since, the party’s registration level today is about where it was in 2019 if you account for population increase.
The second mitigator is Republican registration, where the picture, though also mixed, looks rougher. This month, 721,530 Republicans are registered in the state – fewer than three-fourths the number of Democrats. That, too, is a decline from the 2020 numbers, when 764,216 Republicans were registered. (Both parties seem to have gone all out to register party members in that presidential year, then lost many afterward.) Since 2020, Republicans lost registrants two of the last three years, with the largest share of losses coming in 2021.
So if lots of people have left the two big parties since 2020, but overall voter registration has remained generally stable, where did they go?
Some went to the Independent Party of Oregon, which has gained about 6,000 members since 2020. But by far the largest number went to the nonaffiliated voter category: It picked up about 14,000 registrants in that time. While the parties gained members in the year prior to 2020, those in the unaffiliated category diminished by 9,184 voters.
There’s some recent history backing the idea that Oregon voter registration is like an accordion, with the parties puffing up when presidential election year comes around, then losing a significant chunk of their members in between.
The numbers reflect the trend of people becoming disenchanted with major parties in a non-presidential election year while turning towards them when the office of president is on the ballot.
It also shows that as steadily Democratic as Oregon can seem on a surface level – and generally has been when voters weigh in with their ballots – that the blue majority rides rising and falling tides.
Watch the registration numbers month by month and see whether Democrats start picking up in the year ahead, leading up to the 2024 presidential election. If they do, traditional results are likely to appear. But the parties will have to work for support. It’s soft enough that it could falter if it’s not well tended.
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