Capitol Insider: Previewing The 2022 Oklahoma Election Climate
Statewide elections in Oklahoma are less than a year away, so this is a good time to look ahead to the political climate that will influence the races, with Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Oklahoma, Dr. Allyson Shortle.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley. Our guest is Dr. Allyson Shortle, associate professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma. Dr. Shortle, thanks for joining us.
Allyson Shortle: Thanks for having me.
Shawn Ashley: Dr. Shortle, your research focuses on group identity in American political behavior. How do you see the political environment shaping up in Oklahoma with just under a year to go before the 2022 election?
Allyson Shortle: I'm very curious to see to what extent Trump is still part of the conversation in a lot of these matches between Republicans, not necessarily Republicans versus Democrats, but a lot of the Republicans who are claiming to be Trump Lite running against other very conservative Republicans who the Trump Republicans are claiming are not loyal to Trump enough. So, it should be really interesting to see if people are going towards these candidates in the name of support for Trump and what he represents, or if they're going to continue to support conservative Republicans who don't necessarily put Trump front and center of their agenda.
Dick Pryor: Well, that is the big question. Oklahoma is a heavily Republican and pro-Trump state. Will that strong allegiance hold firm in 2022 and become a major factor in campaigns for both parties or do you see it moderating somewhat, as we saw from Republican Glenn Youngkin in his successful gubernatorial race in Virginia?
Allyson Shortle: I am not quite sure. And that's why it's so exciting to me to see what's going to happen. I do believe that it's hard for these candidates who are saying that they're Trump Lite, essentially, because they are fighting against other Republicans. It's not the case, as in other states where you're looking at Trump Republicans versus a Democratic candidate. What's really happening in Oklahoma, oftentimes, is that we're seeing Trump Republicans against other Republicans who also vote in the same spirit of Donald Trump, right, but don't exactly claim to be exactly like him and certainly offer a little bit of wiggle room for moderates to support as well. So, my best guess would be that they're going to be a little bit closer races than we're accustomed to seeing in these Republican primaries. But at the end of the day, I think you're going to see a lot of incumbents come away with those wins.
Shawn Ashley: Nationally, the electorate is polarized. Do you see the same sharp divisions within Oklahoma?
Allyson Shortle: Well, as you know, we are a big red state. We do largely see Republicans facing other Republicans. And oftentimes these primaries really dictate who's going to win the elections. We don't often see Democratic competitors arise with any real shot at winning an election. That being said, things aren't just as polarized in Oklahoma as they are in other parts of the country. But I think you see a lot more nuances between the various types of Republicans and conservatives that exist in the state.
That's not to say that there's not plenty of towns in Oklahoma where Democrats have some sort of advantage. But you aren't necessarily going to see the same Democrat versus Republican tactics that you'll see in other states. One thing we have been noticing - especially in places like Norman - people are trying to take advantage of partisan labels to get elected onto town councils, for instance, so people will call out certain council members for being Democratic leaning. And we haven't seen a lot of that in the past, not quite as effectively as is happening in places like Norman, Oklahoma, where you do see people wanting to attach themselves to a particular type of Republican, a Trump Republican, and cast out these candidates who are supposed to not be partisan.
Municipal government is fundamentally supposed to be not partisan. So, the fact that they're trying to make it partisan shows you how polarized it is. Once we really uncover these local elections and the strategies that are driving these candidates and these what are supposed to be municipal elections, ones that are not supposed to involve partisan labels at all.
Dick Pryor: New congressional districts in Oklahoma move a large share of the Latino and Latina vote from CD5 to CD3. How much does that affect their political influence?
Allyson Shortle: Tremendously. This is going to be a big problem in terms of Latino mobilization. I myself am always at the polls every midterm and presidential election. I run an exit poll in Oklahoma City. And one of the most common things I see is when we change these congressional districts, voters show up to the polls and they're told that they're at the wrong precinct. They need to go to a different one to vote. This becomes a big problem, especially for populations where English is not necessarily the primary language. And we do see already a tremendous hurdle in Oklahoma City, where CD5 is largely located.
We see a problem with the Latino electorate being able to mobilize already. Whether that has to do with awareness of elections due to language barriers or just to having just moved from another country and having gotten citizenship and not really been acculturated into the political system and not knowing where to go anyways is just another reason that makes it harder for Latinos to vote. Sometimes it's just too much of a burden already to go to the polls to take time off of work. And by the time you've already gone through line and you're rejected from being able to vote at your precinct and told that your precinct has in fact changed, that's too much. You go home. I could see a lot of voters not being able to express their vote, especially in the Latino community, because of this particular change.
Shawn Ashley: Are there any other demographic trends shifting the Oklahoma electorate that we should be watching for in the 2022 election season?
Allyson Shortle: We know that the demographic changes in Oklahoma City are really hard to keep on top of because of how quickly the city has grown. Oklahoma City, being in CD5, has experienced tremendous growth in the past year, two years, ten years. And a lot of that is in the Latinx and Black communities in Oklahoma City. So, we should keep our eyes on how these various changes might change certain outcomes in these elections. But what really counts is who is mobilized, and we are seeing in American politics overall, many groups are mobilized that weren't mobilized previously. And we should definitely keep track of who is showing up, but more importantly, who is not showing up and why.
Dick Pryor: There will be a lot to talk about as the 2022 election season unfolds. Dr. Allyson Shortle, associate professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma, thank you for your insight.
Allyson Shortle: Thanks for having me, Dick.
Dick Pryor: And we'd like to hear from you. E-mail your questions to email@example.com or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @ecapitol. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.
(Allyson Shortle, Ph.D. is co-author of The Everyday Crusade: Religious Nationalism in American Politics (Cambridge University Press) which will be released summer 2022.)