Some subtle trends in Kansas voter registration may be sending a message about how voters in the state, and perhaps the nation, are feeling about partisan politics.
While the voter totals compiled by the Kansas secretary of state have fluctuated over the last decade, there is a notable rise in the number of people who are choosing to register as unaffiliated voters rather than aligning with either the Republicans or Democrats.
Kansas remains a strongly Republican state, but the numbers are waning. Democratic registration has grown, but the percentage of Democratic voters has remained relatively steady. The greatest gain in the last decade has been in unaffiliated voters.
In 2000, Republicans represented about 45 percent of Kansas voters; in February of this year, that had dropped to 43.5 percent. The GOP had 735,435 Kansas voters in 2000, peaked with a registration of 783,068 in 2004 when President George Bush was re-elected and then dropped back to the current 740,947.
Democratic registration also peaked at 454,478 in 2004, dropped somewhat, then rebounded to 451,577 in 2008 when President Obama was elected. After that, however, it continued to grow to the current 468,190. In 2000, 27 percent of voters were registered Democrats; last month, that total stood at 27.5 percent.
The number of unaffiliated voters was 424,183 in 2000. It had a couple of bumps in presidential election years but showed a steady increase to 481,497 last month. That’s 28 percent of the state’s registered voters compared with 26 percent in 2000.
As noted, it’s a subtle change, and it would be wrong to read too much into the statistics. However, the registration totals seem consistent with Americans’ widely perceived dissatisfaction with the deep political divisions that mark both state and national government. In Kansas, Republicans are losing some support, but their voters aren’t necessarily turning to the Democrats. They want to vote, but many apparently prefer not to be identified with either party.
They may or may not be trying to send a message to the two major political parties, but it’s a trend that warrants consideration by party leaders and elected officials. A strong two-party system may be considered the backbone of American democracy, but the inability of too many lawmakers to meet somewhere in the middle to move public policy forward may not be playing well with American voters.