Since the election of President Obama in 2008 and the death of Robert C. Byrd in 2010, Democrats’ hold on registered voters statewide has been shrinking. Although still the state’s majority party, in the past eight years every county in West Virginia has seen a drop in the percentage of voters registering as Democrats.
The most dramatic drops (between 10 and 12 percent) have occurred in southern coalfield counties like McDowell and Raleigh. All counties—with the exception of Grant County—have at least a 4% smaller majority of Democrat voters in 2014 than in 2006. Meanwhile, the percentage of independent voters has gone up.
What is alarming for Democratic Senate candidate Natalie Tennant is that the counties with the largest percentage of Democrat voters saw the greatest declines. Over 80 percent of registered voters in McDowell County and Webster County were Democrats in 2006. In 2014, there were zero counties with over 80 percent Democrats.
If Shelley Moore Capito defeats Natalie Tennant, she will become West Virginia’s first Republican senator since 1956. That senator, W. Chapman Revercomb, was only elected to complete the term of Harley M. Kilgore, who died in office. Revercomb only served through 1958, when he was defeated by Robert Byrd. He was also the last Republican to be elected to a full Senate term in West Virginia: In 1942 he defeated Matthew Neely following the retirement of Democrat Joseph Rosier but lost his 1948 re-election bid.
Designing the graphic
The data came from the West Virginia Secretary of State website (). For each county, the total number of registered Democrats was divided by the county’s total number of registered voters to get a percentage of Democrat voters. This was done for both 2006 and 2014 data, and percentage decrease was calculated. Using our West Virginia map template, each county was colored to correspond with the percentage of Democrats lost.