It’s too early to call it a progressive juggernaut and events with political ramifications could change everything, but recent polls and an election show some Oklahoman voters may be shifting away from the conservative politics that have defined them for at least the last two decades.
Three recent SurveyUSA polls of Oklahomans may show the political tide is turning from red to blue.
One poll shows only 39 percent of the state residents now approve of President George W. Bush’s job performance. An astonishing 59 percent disapprove of his performance. That is down from 56 percent approval in May 2005 and a much higher approval rating after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. State Republicans, who gave Bush 90 percent approval in May 2005, now give him only 79 percent.
Another recent SurveyUSA poll shows John Edwards, whom some consider the most liberal of the front-running Democratic Party candidates for president, leads the Republican major presidential candidates among Oklahomans. Edwards beats Mitt Romney by 21 percent, Rudy Giuliani by 9 percent and Fred Thompson by 6 percent. Hillary Clinton beats Romney, but loses to Giuliani and Thompson. Barack Obama loses to all the Republican candidates.
Yet another SurveyUSA poll shows Gov. Brad Henry, the state’s leading Democrat, has an amazing 75 percent approval rating for job performance. Oklahoma Republicans, the poll shows, give him a 72 percent approval rating. Independents give him 62 percent approval.
Only the state’s ultraconservatives would consider Henry a liberal, but these numbers show more Republicans may be willing to move away from voting a straight ticket in coming elections. No one can argue this Democrat is one of the most popular governors in Oklahoma history.
Finally, an Oct. 9 school bond issue election for Oklahoma City Public Schools passed by large numbers.
Nearly 80 percent of voters approved four propositions that will improve the district’s infrastructure, provide more technology opportunities, buy more buses and improve security in schools.
Although the vote itself is technically nonpartisan, it is not difficult to see it as a progressive gesture. Voters came together for the common good and decided to continue current taxation rates. The vote benefits everyone in the community, even those without school-age children. This is not an anti-Republican vote, for sure, but it certainly indicates a basic, progressive trust in government.
The three polls and election, when added with anecdotal evidence ” it’s difficult to encounter anyone who supports the Iraq occupation without at least some reservations besides the editorial staff at The Oklahoman ” suggest the 2008 elections could be a Democratic sweep. This could be the progressive version of the so-called Reagan Revolution. The political cliché goes, “people want change,” but this time it may be true, even in Oklahoma, one of the reddest of red states.
Some state GOP leaders undoubtedly will dispute the recent polls and election show a pattern, much less a paradigm switch among Oklahoma voters.
But what if a new progressive breeze is blowing across the prairie? It has happened before. Oklahoma has a rich, progressive history, from the songs of Woody Guthrie to Will Rogers’ most significant writings during the Great Depression. But, hey, maybe Oklahomans simply want to try something different here and see what happens. There is nothing wrong with that idea.
Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and author of the progressive blog Okie Funk: Notes From the Outback, http://www.okiefunk.com.