The West Virginia Republican Party will overtake the Democratic Party in registration within a matter of months. That will be a milestone in the dramatic shift in the state’s political makeup for nearly a century.
Numbers from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office at the end of December show the state has 467,438 Democrats and 461,485 Republicans—a difference of just 5,953 voters. Looked at another way, 36.82 percent of voters are Democrats while 36.35 percent are Republicans (22.77 percent are independents).
The Democratic decline, and subsequent Republican gains, have been occurring over the last 20 years. As recently as 1996, two-thirds of all voters in the state were Democrats. However, the landscape started to shift with the election of George W. Bush in 2000.
What began as a slow leak in Democratic registration turned into a flood. Twenty-seven of the state’s 55 counties now have more Republicans than Democrats. That is nearly double the number from 2016, when Republicans were the majority in only 14 counties.
Last year, Greenbrier, Mason, Mercer, Pocahontas, Raleigh and Nicholas counties flipped. At least five other counties—Hardy, Marshall, Ohio, Pendleton and Tucker—are trending that way and are within a few hundred voters or less of turning red.
Not many West Virginians alive today can remember when the state last had a Republican majority. You have to go back to early last century to find a GOP advantage in voter registration.
The 1928 election saw Republican Herbert Hoover win in a landslide over Democrat Al Smith. Hoover won 40 states including West Virginia, where Republicans held a registration advantage of 55 percent to 45 percent.
But the country had changed dramatically by the 1932 election because of the Depression. Democrat Franklin Roosevelt swamped Hoover. Roosevelt carried West Virginia by ten points, even though Republicans still had a narrow registration advantage—51 percent to 49 percent.
By the midterm elections of 1934, West Virginia had flipped with 58 percent of voters registered with the Democratic Party. The state would stay Democratic, at least in terms of registration, for the next 86 years.
The shift in registration here is trailing the change in political leadership. The last election saw Republicans claim super majorities in both chambers of the state legislature, all three congressional seats, and every seat on the Board of Public Works, including Governor.
Of course, with winning comes responsibility to produce results. For years, Republicans blamed the state’s woes on the “one-party-rule” of the Democrats. Now, the political shoe is on the other foot and West Virginians will expect Republicans to lead the state toward greater prosperity.