North country voters in recent months have become more likely to say “no thanks” to the two major parties, a result, some experts say, of gridlock and embarrassment in Washington.
“It really spells out their disgust with both parties,” said Robert N. Wells, an emeritus professor at St. Lawrence University, Canton. “That’s the way I look at it.”
Over the past six months, the percentage of voters who are enrolled as Democrats or Republicans has dropped by half a point, with more voters turning toward no party affiliation or toward minor parties. Similar dips occurred in recent years, and the proportion of major-party enrollees is at its lowest number in nearly a decade.
For example, in April, the state Board of Elections said 41.8 percent of voters in the 23rd Congressional District were Republicans, while 30.9 percent were Democrats. By November, those numbers had dropped to 41.5 percent for Republicans and 30.7 percent for Democrats.
“I’m sure that some of it has to do with frustration with the political process,” said Rep. William L. Owens, who represents the 23rd District. “The failure this summer to act rationally and like adults in the room relative to the debt ceiling is one cause. I think the recent breakdown of the supercommittee is also another.”
Mr. Wells said New York’s laws keep its parties strong. For example, only enrolled members of a political party can vote in a primary.
But Mr. Wells said that might be changing with historic ineptitude in the federal government.
“The most dedicated member of either party may be sitting there saying, ‘My God, what is happening? Why am I a part of this?’” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of angst to both parties.”
But even though the changes might reflect the mood of the country and the north country’s opinion vis-a-vis Washington gridlock, they’re too minute to have a great effect on strategy in the 2012 congressional race.
“It’s remarkably static,” said Republican businessman Matthew A. Doheny, who will try for a second time to unseat Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh. “In terms of percentage, it hasn’t really changed that much.”
Mr. Doheny noted that the district is still “reliably Republican,” even though for the past two elections it has elected a Democrat, Mr. Owens.
“Here, we have the enrollment edge,” said Donald G.M. Coon III, Jefferson County GOP chairman. “It’s just getting Republicans to vote for Republicans.”
Mr. Owens said the numbers won’t change his strategy.