OR Motor Voters: To Convert Them or not Convert Them? That is the Question

By William Street

There is an informal discussion bubbling up at many Clackamas Democratic Committee meetings these days. Sides are being taken on a basic campaign approach:

Should the party allocate resources to attempt to sign up nonaffiliated (Motor Voter) citizens and seek to get them to re-register with a party affiliation? Or, instead, focus on getting more Democrats out to vote?

Unfortunately, “facts” can’t make the difficult priority resource decisions any easier. However, they can offer some insights to make a decision from a more “informed” position.

An analysis of Oregon’s Motor Voter election activity gives ammo to both sides.

On the one hand, Oregon’s Motor Voter nonaffiliated numbers are increasing and on the rise. In Clackamas County there are about 95,000 registered Democrats, the largest party in the county. In third place are nonaffiliated voters with about 75,000 registered.

On the other hand, in the 2016 general election Motor Voters statewide had a turnout of 43.6 percent, compared to the statewide turnout of 84 percent (Clackamas County had a turnout of 80.9 percent).

Complicating this is an interesting although complex relationship between party affiliation and voting.

Voters affiliated with a party vote at much higher rates than those with no affiliation. Why? In part, it is because joining a party requires a certain level of engagement. Second, once in a party, that party spends resources to get out the vote.

Therefore, the nonaffiliated voter who now voting at a much lower level will vote more often once they are affiliated with a party.

One possible conclusion from the table is that the gap in voter turnout is greater between affiliated and unaffiliated among Motor Voters, suggesting that affiliating them will increase their election participation at a greater rate than signing up voters who were not registered through the Motor Voter process.

This conclusion must be augmented with a demographic, educational attainment, gender, and racial composition for a more in-depth analysis. For more details see the study.