The Republican Party in West Virginia has undergone a significant evolution in recent years, influenced not only by ideological shifts but also by the enduring impact of former President Donald Trump. This transformation is occurring in parallel with a notable change in voter registration numbers, with a substantial decrease in Democrats and a significant increase in Republicans.
The Trump Effect
Donald Trump’s presidency had a profound effect on the Republican Party across the nation, and West Virginia was no exception. Many Republicans in the state rallied around Trump’s America First agenda, emphasizing issues like jobs, the economy, and strong borders. This alignment with Trump’s vision solidified his support in the state, and his influence continues to shape the party’s direction.
Voter Registration Shift
An essential aspect of West Virginia’s political landscape is the significant shift in voter registration. In recent years, there has been a striking decrease in the number of registered Democrats and a substantial rise in registered Republicans. To put this in perspective, in 2016, there were 566,841 Democrats and 382,172 Republicans. However, the latest figures indicate that there are now 197,458 fewer Democrats and 80,561 more Republicans registered to vote in the state.
This shift reflects a changing political landscape, where more West Virginians are identifying with Republican values and principles. It also underscores the impact of political choices and the preferences of voters.
The Ideological Divide
Within the Republican Party, there’s an ongoing debate between conservatives and moderates about the party’s identity and priorities. Staunch conservatives emphasize values like limited government, personal freedom, and traditional family values. On the other hand, moderates prioritize fiscal results over social issues and compromise to address pressing issues, such as infrastructure, healthcare, and education.
The inclusion of former Democrats in the GOP adds another layer of complexity, as these individuals bring different perspectives on economic opportunity, social safety nets, and community support.
As the political landscape continues to evolve, the Republican Party in West Virginia faces both challenges and opportunities, and the choices it makes will have a lasting impact on the state’s political future.
Pew Research Surveys in 2021 showed the idealogy splits in the Republican Party.
The survey breaks down the GOP ranks into groups based on ideology and provides a clearer picture of how the party has changed since 2016.
This data suggests that 23% of the GOP electorate are intensely conservative voters who have clear “deal breaker” issues and are most likely to turn out to vote. Data suggests that groups linked to the Populous Right and Ambivolent Right are far less likely to turnout.
In races like the West Virginia Attorney General, this turnout and ideology could make a major impact in the race. Each of the three current candidates fall into distinct groups.
The AG Race Is A Litmus Test
Ryan Weld, a state Senator from the northern panhandle, and current Auditor JB McCuskey both have voting records on issues that would be considered “deal breakers” to Faith & Flag Conservatives. Weld voted against a bill related to “protecting girls sports” that would have prevented transgender athletes from participating in school sports against members of the opposite sex. Additionally he worked to defeat the Campus Carry Bill.
Weld has been an advocate for ecomonic development projects such as the Form Energy factory in Weirton. Many far-right republicans have been critical of the project due to it’s position against coal and natural gas as well as it’s alignment to former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates.
Auditor JB McCuskey also previously served in the legislature where he also had “deal breaker” votes for the Faith & Flag Conservatives. While in the House of Delegates McCuskey voted three times against the “Constitutional Carry” bill which ultimately passed. Weld voted for the bill. Additionally JB McCuskey has personally donated to Fairness WV the pre-eminent LGBTQ+ organization in the state. This too is something Faith & Flag Conservatives would find a “deal breaker.”
Mike Stuart, State Senator from Kanawha and former Trump appointed U.S. Attorney firmly represents the Faith & Flag Conservatives, but may be too hard charging for members of the Populist and Ambivolent Right groups. Stuart has been a sponsor of anti-drug legislation and has been clear about his opposition to recreational legalization of marijuana.
The challenge to candidates in the Attorney General race, as well as the other state races is to tie their positions to name ID and differentiate themselves from other candidates. WV Statewide will present another poll in October that includes the Attorney General’s race.