(CTN News) – Since Democrat Brad Henry won the Oklahoma gubernatorial election 20 years ago, the changes in party registration since then illustrate how the Republican Party has gained a foothold in traditionally “yellow-dog” Democratic rural areas.
In this year’s race for governor, rural counties will be the battleground between incumbent Republican Kevin Stitt and newly minted Democratic Joy Hofmeister, who switched parties last year after winning statewide office twice as a Republican. Natalie Bruno of the Libertarian Party and Ervin Yen of the Independent Party are also running for the position of governor.
There has been a barrage of negative outside advertising against Stitt since the summer, and his policies on school vouchers have not been well received in rural areas, according to the latest polls.
According to the latest snapshot by the state Election Board, any Republican statewide candidate starts out with a natural advantage in Oklahoma, with 51% of registered voters being Republicans. It is estimated that 30% of voters are Democrats, and approximately 1% are Libertarians.
Voter registration in Oklahoma by party from 2002 to 2022
During the last 20 years, the Republican Party has made significant gains in traditionally Democratic strongholds in Oklahoma. Currently, 51% of the state’s registered voters are Republicans, 30% are Democrats, and 18% are independents.
Party registration figures are drastically different from 2002, when Democrats constituted 54% of registered voters and Republicans 36%.
In spite of the surge in Republican Party registration over the past two decades, the number of independent voters has increased significantly.
Currently, 18% of Oklahoma’s registered voters are independents, according to the Oklahoma Election Board. This is an increase from 10% in 2002.
Hofmeister must gain the support of these voters and moderate Republicans in rural areas. This is if he is to break through what is currently a red wall in many of the state’s counties outside of Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
In 2018, Stitt won with 54% of the vote. Between 1995 and 2011, Drew Edmondson served four terms as attorney general, winning all but four counties against him.