HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — More West Virginians are leaving the Democratic Party.
New numbers from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office show a downward trend in Democratic registrations continues with 524,964 of residents voters registered now as Democrats, down from 577,977 in 2016 and 613,518 in 2014.
In four years, the total decline in Democratic voters totaled 14 percent, the office reported.
Just under 43 percent of all registered voters in West Virginia are registered Democrats compared with 32 percent for Republicans, a number that has been steadily rising.
In total, 392,804 voters are registered as Republicans for the May primary, an increase of close to 18,000 voters from two years ago and 40,000 over GOP registrations in 2014.
Marybeth Beller, an associate professor & director of masters in public administration in Marshall University’s Department of Political Science, said the decline in registered Democrats is part of a national trend.
“West Virginia has historically been for many decades a very dominant Democratic state in which conservatives ran as Democrats just to be able to get elected,” she said. “The second thing is the Republican Party for years going back to 2008 has been very, very cohesive. They have had one message: Obama is bad, we are good, follow the Republicans, we’re going to be the new leaders and lead us to better policy.”
Independent voters account for 25 percent of all voters in West Virginia. As recently as 1994, registered independents made up four percent of total registrations.
In West Virginia, independents can choose to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary elections.
West Virginia Party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore said she’s not worried about voters not registering as Democrats.
“On a national level, they are tired of both parties,” she said. “They think they can find a home with independents, but I never agreed with that. I always figured you had to take a side.”
Biafore added most local seats, such as county commissioners, remain in Democratic control.
“We still hold the numbers on that,” she said.
As for Republican growth, Beller said the party should be concerned about later fracturing within the GOP, much like the national divide between President Donald Trump’s base and moderate Republicans.
“What started off as the Tea Party movement has really moved, and we see a lot of mainstream Republicans move away from the Trump administration while Trump’s base continues to be very highly supportive of him,” she said.
Voter registration for the May primary ended on Tuesday, Apr. 17 and 1,227,600 people are registered to vote.
Early voting begins Wednesday and runs through May 5.
On Tuesday, May 8, polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.