Anti-Obama fever that swept across Oklahoma didn't result in voters last week swarming to vote straight-party Republican.
Only one in three Oklahomans voted Tuesday for President Barack Obama, and the president again failed to win any of the state's 77 counties. (He won 33.2 percent of the vote this year, compared with 34.4 percent in 2008.) But the percentage of straight-party Republican voters dropped about 10 percent compared with four years ago, from 41.4 percent in 2008 to 31.4 percent this year, figures from the state Election Board show.
About 120,000 fewer Oklahoma voters cast straight-party Republican ballots Tuesday, according to the state Election Board. About 64,000 more Republicans than Democrats voted a straight-party ticket. But that is far less a margin than during the midterm elections two years ago, when nearly 100,000 more Republicans than Democrats voted a straight-party ticket, which helped GOP candidates record a historic first by winning all eight statewide offices on the 2010 ballot.
Nearly 500,000 of the 1.3 million voters who cast ballots in the presidential race voted straight-party, state Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said. That represents about 38.5 percent of the votes cast in the race.
Of those, 281,724 were Republican straight-party ballots, or 56.4 percent, and 217,762, or 43.6 percent, were Democratic straight party ballots.
In 2008, 684,539 cast straight-party ballots for president. Nearly 60 percent, or 405,488, were cast by Republicans and 276,051 were by Democrats.
With the president's popularity never catching on in Oklahoma, it was possible that Republican straight-party voting would increase in 2012. Since Obama's election, legislation was introduced but never passed in the Legislature that would have made it a crime to enforce the Affordable Care Act, which is commonly called Obamacare. About 65 percent of voters in 2010 approved State Question 756, that would allow Oklahomans to opt out of a health care system.
A political scientist said a new ballot design in which voters only have one option to vote straight party may be a key factor. Four years ago, voters had the option to vote straight party solely in the presidential race.
“Part of it is the ballot design,” said Keith Gaddie, a University of Oklahoma political science professor. “We're not measuring the same thing we measured four years ago. It's a different creature.”
Four years ago, there were up to four areas on the ballot where voters could mark to vote solely along party lines. Marks had to be made to vote straight party in the presidential, statewide, congressional, and legislative and county officer races. Legislation was passed and signed into law since the 2008 election that now provides only one area to mark straight-party voting for all four groups of races.
“On the one hand, it's good that the ballot design is cutting down on the straight-party pull because it shows voters are giving thought to their ballot,” Gaddie said. “But the fact that the design is causing us to take longer to get through the ballot, that's a bad thing.”
Voters this year may have avoided voting straight-party Republican because of popular Democratic candidates in county and legislative races, he said.
Ziriax said an individually marked race always overrides straight-party voting.
“The straight party will vote everything that's not marked, but if you go mark one differently that always, always overrides a straight-party,” he said.
By the numbers
In 2008, the number of straight-party votes for state officers dropped off by 13,000 votes; 671,348 voted straight-party for state officers. Republicans dropped from 59.5 percent in the presidential to 56.5 percent in the statewide and Democrats picked up 3 percent, from 40.5 to 43.5 percent.
In 2010, state Election Board records show that nearly 100,000 more Republicans than Democrats voted a straight-party ticket in the ballot for statewide races, resulting in GOP statewide candidates getting nearly a 100,000-vote cushion.
Of voters casting straight- party votes on statewide races, 61.8 percent voted Republican, or 256,801 and 38.2 percent, or 158,775, voted Democratic.
About 40 percent of the votes received by Gov. Mary Fallin were straight- party Republican ballots. The percentage of straight-party voters supporting one party in statewide elections in 2010 was the highest in recent years.
In 2008, 56.5 percent of the straight-party ballots were cast for Republican statewide candidates and in 2006, when Democrats won eight of the nine statewide offices, 58 percent of the straight-party ballots were cast by Democrats.
Tuesday's turnout was about 63 percent of the state's 2.1 million registered voters. The turnout was below the 67 percent recorded in 2008 and the 68 percent that voted in 2004, which was the highest number of voters in Oklahoma to cast ballots in a presidential election.
Gaddie said he expected straight-party voting will likely increase in the years ahead. The number of registered Republican voters, who are more likely to vote straight party, is continuing to grow in the state.
“The Democratic electorate is older and they've been in the habit of voting a split ticket for a long time,” he said. “The Republicans are a younger to middle-age voter and Republicans historically are a little more partisan than Democrats. They're less inclined to split their ticket.”