Where do you want to fly?
While there continues to be talk of “red” or “blue” waves sweeping the nation in the midterm elections, there’s a greater chance any local waves will be red if voter registration trends translate to votes on Election Day.
Since 2016, the Tri-State area as a whole has continued to gain Republican voters, mostly at the expense of Democrats, but unaffiliated voters and those who don’t identify with either of the two major parties have actually increased by a slightly larger margin.
Over the two-year span, the active voter base for Herald-Mail Media’s six-county coverage area has grown just over 1 percent, from 325,438 to 329,266, an increase of 3,828 voters.
Within that growth, GOP and unaffiliated or other party voter blocks have grown by roughly 3,300 people each, while Democratic registration has declined by more than 2,800, according to statistics.
Eric Schwartz, a political science instructor at Hagerstown Community College, said the growth among the ranks of voters who don’t identify with either major party seems to follow a national trend.
The polarized political climate in the country has created a “disaffection for the status quo” that both parties represent, Schwartz said.
Still, voters who move away from the two major parties tend to consistently vote for one party or the other, “but psychologically, they feel more comfortable calling themselves unaffiliated,” Schwartz said.
“We have a hyperpartisanship situation, and people understandably pull back from that and are less reluctant to identify with either party,” Schwartz said.
Overall, the percentage of Republicans compared to the total voter pool grew by a half-percent since 2016, now representing about 46.2 percent of all voters in the six-county area that includes Washington County in Maryland, Franklin and Fulton counties in Pennsylvania, and Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties in West Virginia.
Unaffiliated and other party voters grew the most, gaining 0.8 percent of the total voter registration, up to nearly a quarter of all voters.
Democrats, on the other hand, lost 1.2 percent in its share of voters, dropping from 30.6 percent to 29.4 percent in the last two years.
Schwartz said the shift could stem from voters who did not consider themselves “conventional Republicans” who voted for Donald Trump in the last presidential election. Or, in some cases, they may have been Democrats who could not support Hillary Clinton.
The rise of third parties, like the Green Party, especially among younger voters, might not have a significant impact on this election, but it’s clearly gaining momentum, he said.
“The younger generation is not doing politics in the same way” as older Americans, Schwartz said. “They’re using different venues, different platforms, and they’re following different information. The people who are coming of voting age now, they’re not newspaper readers. A lot of them aren’t TV watchers. They’re getting their information from social-media sites.
“It will be interesting to see, at the local level, how this gets manifested,” he said.
Washington County saw modest changes in registration among the two major parties, with larger gains happening in the ranks of unaffiliated and other party voters.
Specifically for unaffiliated voters, the rise can mostly be attributed to new registrations rather than affiliation changes, according to Washington County data. The county actually lost 252 unaffiliated voters to affiliation switches, much more than Democrats or Republicans.
“It’s been over the years that we’ve seen more and more (unaffiliated voters) for whatever reason,” said Kaye Robucci, the county’s elections director.
Part of that trend could be related to Maryland’s closed primary elections, Robucci said, which do not permit unaffiliated voter participation unless there is a nonpartisan race on the ballot, like for the city of Hagerstown or Washington County Board of Education.
Looking elsewhere around the Tri-State, the largest two-year shift in registration happened in Jefferson County, W.Va., where Democrats lost 2.1 percent of the county’s share while overall registrations grew by 1,909. Republicans gained 1 percent, while unaffiliated and other party voters increased by 1.1 percent.
The least change was seen in Franklin County, Pa., where just 0.2 percent of registrations moved away from the top two parties, again at the expense of Democrats.
GOP registrations in Franklin County grew by more than 350 over the past two years, an increase of 0.6 percent. Democrats dropped by nearly 1,000, a decline of 0.9 percent.
Berkeley County, W.Va., lost the most Democratic registrations in the Tri-State at 1,483 voters. The decline equates to a drop of 1.9 percent even though registration overall rose slightly to 77,634.
To the west, Morgan County, W.Va., also lost Democrats by 1.9 percent, while seeing bumps in Republican registrations by 1.2 percent and unaffiliated or other parties by 0.8 percent.
The only jurisdiction that did not lose Democrats was Fulton County, Pa., but the slight growth — just 66 Democrats — actually resulted in a net loss of 0.7 percent when considering that the overall voting base gained 504 voters. Republicans grew by 343 voters and unaffiliated or other parties gained 95.