2018 Oregon Election Results
Alex McHaddad, January 19, 2019
It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. 2018 cannot be remembered any other way for Oregon Republicans. While the 2016 election of Dennis Richardson to the office of Secretary of State posited an end to 30 years of Democratic dominance, the GOP lost its only statewide race and yielded the Legislative Assembly to Democratic supermajorities. Such heavy electoral defeats can be attributed to a variety of factors, such as poor outreach efforts, disagreeable candidates, and low turnout. However, Oregon Republicans face a much larger problem that came to light this year: there are too few of them to win elections.
Elections were held for 17 of Oregon's 30 state Senate seats, including 2 special elections. 8 GOP-held seats were up for election, along with 9 Democratic seats. Republicans only fielded candidates in 13 districts, but Democratic candidates ran in all 17 districts. Running candidates in all districts helped Democrats win 11 Senate races, resulting in a Senate supermajority of 18.
Democrats won all but one district where primary turnout was higher for their party than the GOP. More unfavorably for Republicans, data from the Secretary of State shows that 100% GOP turnout in each Senate District won by Democrats would not have prevented a Democratic victory.
House of Representatives
All 60 seats in the Oregon House of Representatives were up for election in 2016. With candidates in only 44 seats, Republicans needed to win several competitive races against Democrats to win a majority. Republicans won only 22 districts, however, and a Democratic supermajority swept the lower chamber.
Nearly every Democratic victor took power in a district where primary turnout was high than the GOP. More unfavorably for Republicans, data from the Secretary of State shows that 100% GOP turnout in each House District won by Democrats would not have prevented a Democratic victory.
Most legislative races had pretty clear voter registration imbalances that resulted in a Democratic supermajority for both houses. However, the race for Governor may not have been determined by an imbalance of eligible voters in either party. Republican and Democratic turnout was respectively measured at 81.1% and 81.8% by the Secretary of State. Governor Kate Brown won her re-election with over 934,000 votes, overcoming GOP challenger Rep. Knute Buehler's 814,000 votes and the 23,000 votes cast for Independent Party candidate Patrick Starnes.
Similar turnout routes for Democrats and Republicans is a problem for the latter party because of their voter registration imbalance. Oregon's 705,000 Republicans are outnumbered by 877,000 Non-Affiliated Voters and 976,000 Democrats. As a result, Republican candidates need a much larger percentage of their party's voters to participate in elections to achieve victory.
Governor Brown's margin of victory over Knute Buehler was only 119,000 votes. 133,000 eligible Republicans did not cast a ballot in this election, a disappointing figure to note when 98% of GOP voters would have needed to back Buehler in order to win.
The ORP's Future
The Oregon Republican Party needs a radical shift in tactics in order to win urban legislative seats and the Governor's office. Certain Republican voices have advocated for a doubling-down on conservative policy in order to ensure higher party turnout, especially in light of the failure of moderates like Dr. Bud Pierce and Rep. Buehler to crack 45%. Widely seen as the first Republican candidate since 2010 with a chance to take the Governor's office, Rep. Buehler ultimately received fewer votes in 2018 than Dr. Pierce in 2016.
For Republicans, the key to victory is not a change in messaging. The key to victory is strategy, specifically a strategy that prioritizes turning out both Republicans and Non-Affiliated Voters. Of over 877,000 eligible NAV's, only 416,000 cast a ballot in November 2018. NAV's participated in House elections by an average of only 47.7%.
If Republicans wish to win in the future, the strategy is clear. While higher turnout rates for the GOP will benefit candidates, races will not be won without NAV turnout. Prompting NAV's to vote will require additional resources usually spent on driving Republican turnout, but the reward will be worth the risk. Rather than modifying messaging to attract NAV's to a candidate, Republicans need to simply reach out to NAV's and ask for their vote. Elections are not won by simply knocking on the doors a candidate believes will open. Elections are won by knocking on every door possible and establishing the personal connections that voters will remember at the ballot box. Until the Oregon Republicans knocks on every door in the state, the party can plan on continuing to lose statewide and legislative elections.