Politics & Government

Blue no longer: Democratic voter registration drops below 50 percent in Kentucky

The Kentucky state Capitol in Frankfort
The Kentucky state Capitol in Frankfort jcheves@herald-leader.com

Democrats no longer make up a majority of registered voters in Kentucky, dipping below 50 percent for the first time since at least the World War II era.

Democrats now make up 49.9 percent of the 3.3 million registered voters in Kentucky, according to state data released June 15. Republicans make up 41 percent.

Republicans have been slowly gaining registered voters in the Bluegrass State for decades. Democrats made up a majority of Kentucky's congressional delegation when Mitch McConnell was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984, but today Democrats control only one seat.

In 2016, Republicans even won a majority in the Kentucky House of Representatives, which had been under Democratic control since the 1920s.

“Thanks go to Democratic politicians like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Steve and Andy Beshear, and Alison Lundergan Grimes for making this happen," said Tres Watson, spokesman for the Republican Party of Kentucky. "Their out-of-touch liberal policies and corrupt mismanagement of government have driven thousands of voters to change their registration to the Republican Party."

Brad Bowman, spokesman for the Kentucky Democratic Party, said politics is cyclical, but admitted that many rural voters had left the Democratic Party in favor of its conservative counterpart.

"For a long time, I think Kentuckians felt left behind, that our party hadn't reached out to our rural voters," Bowman said. "We're making strides to correct that."

Kentucky was dominated by Democratic politics from the end of the Civil War until the Reagan era, according to Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky. While Republicans occasionally won the state's electoral votes in presidential elections, Democrats controlled state government for a majority of that time, he said.

The Secretary of State's website contains voter turnout data dating back to 1982. In that year, 68.1 percent of registered voters were Democrats and 28.5 percent were Republicans.

The Democrats' dip below 50 percent is unlikely to have much of an effect on the elections in November. Voss said political scientists don't pay much attention to voter registration data, instead focusing on how a region has actually voted in the past.

"Generally we don't consider voter registration good data," he said.