Kentucky’s Shifting Party Demographics Key in 2014 Senate Race

 In our recent profile of the 2014 Kentucky US Senate Race we tried to gauge where the race really is. Is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a safe bet for re-election, or is Alison Lundergan Grimes a real threat?

Since Obama’s election in 2008, one thing is for sure: Conservative Democrats in Kentucky are running from the Democratic label. Take a look at registration statistics compared to self-identification statistics:

2008 Turnout According to Registration: 57% Democrat – 36% Republican (+21 D)
2008 Exit Poll Self-Identification: 47% Democrat – 38% Republican (+9 D)

2010: Turnout According to Registration: 56% Democrat – 37% Republican (+19 D)
2010 Exit Poll Self-Identification: 38% Democrat – 40% Republican (+2 R)

2012: Turnout According to Registration: 55% Democrat – 38% Republican (+17 D)
2012: Exit Poll Self-Identification: N/A

McConnell_small Kentucky's Shifting Party Demographics Key in 2014 Senate Race

In actual voter registration statistics, the Democratic advantage dropped from roughly +21 in 2008 (and 2004) to +17 in 2012. It’s a slow shift in registration statistics, as most voters probably do not go through the hassle of changing their registration just to change affiliation. Where the big shift comes in is with the number of people who verbally state which party they belong to. Before Obama, the Democrats held a 9-point advantage in self-identification at the polls. That shifted to Republican +2 in 2010. Turnout for both parties was equal in both cycles, so roughly a third of registered Democrats claimed to be either Republican or Independent when asked their party affiliation. What’s this mean?

+ The moderate Democrat brand is losing it’s flavor in Kentucky, just as it has in other similar states such as Tennessee and Arkansas which has seen a heavy shift towards the GOP and away from “conservative Democrats.” Grimes isn’t even very moderate, so how will that play out?

+ Polling will be difficult and could make the race seem more favorable to the Democrats than it is. As conservative Democrats shift away from self-identifying as Democrats in polls, the remaining Democratic pool will be much more liberal. The new pool of Democrats will be more liberal and give a larger percent of their vote to the Democrats, throwing polls that weight through Party I.D. off.

+ Kentucky Democrats are not happy with President Obama’s agenda. How much of Obama’s agenda (Obamacare, War on Coal, Abortion, Gun Control) can the Democratic candidate get away with supporting? This isn’t a state election where there is a divide between local and national policies. Grimes will either have to accept or reject the Obama agenda. After fundraisers with Michelle Obama and all of the top Hollywood leftists, it’s obvious which route she has accepted. How will that play out?