Topeka With seven months before the general election, the percentage of unaffiliated voters in Kansas is rising, continuing a slow 10-year trend.
A review of voter registration numbers at the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office shows independents are currently 28 percent of the electorate. That is up from 26 percent in 2000.
The increase comes with a corresponding dip in the percentage of voters registering as Republicans. From 2000 to 2010, GOP voters went from 46 percent to 44 percent of the total.
Democrats, whose raw numbers have increased by 19,000, have seen their share of the registered voters stay the same.
The bump in unaffiliated and drop in Republicans can be deceiving, said Bob Beatty, political science professor at Washburn University. Many of those new independent voters could be what he called “party leaners,” or people who don’t register with one party but vote a party-line ticket most of the time anyway.
“Changes in registration matter, but it’s hard to evaluate how much it matters because we don’t know how many party leaners there are in the unaffiliated category,” he said.
Party affiliation matters, Beatty said, because research shows that despite America’s self-perception as an independent, free-thinking nation, 85 percent to 92 percent of people identifying with a party vote for that party’s candidates.
Statistics are notorious for being the puppets of those who wish to make them dance. The state’s political parties pointed to different numbers as evidence of their respective party’s strength.
The raw numbers for the Kansas Republican Party paint a static picture. In 2000, there were 735,000 registered Republicans. In 2010, the number is 741,000. While those numbers haven’t jumped up as much as the Democrats’ or independents’, what really matters, says GOP spokeswoman Ashley McMillan, is voter turnout.
In 2008, she said 85 percent of Kansas Republican voters showed up to the polls, compared to 80 percent of Democrats.
“And that was Obama’s year,” McMillan said.
The raw numbers for the Kansas Democratic Party indicate growing support. From 2000 to 2010, they went from 449,000 registered voters to 468,000, the largest number since at least 1996. Party spokesman Tyler Longpine said he took encouragement from those figures. He said this isn’t a minor ebb or flow and that the advantage in new registered voters spells trouble for the GOP.
“It’s been our goal to change the shape of the electorate,” Longpine said. “This is proof that it’s happening.”
McMillan said most unaffiliated voters vote with the Republican Party, and Beatty said that might not be too far from the truth.
As he put it, “The default in Kansas is Republican.”
He said the Kansas numbers parallel a national trend of increasing independent registrants.
“I guess the partisanship that has occurred has made unaffiliated a much more attractive category,” Beatty said. “But we’re unsure whether an unaffiliated is really willing to vote for both parties, or if the partisanship has made people just not want to be associated with one party or the other.”