Dr. Michael Bitzer has an interesting post on Twitter this weekend. He’s watching who switched parties and where they went after the election. While the numbers are small, they indicate Republicans are leaving their party at a significantly greater pace than Democrats are leaving theirs. They also show that unaffiliated voters who are affiliating with a party are relatively evenly split between those becoming Democrats and those becoming Republicans. The numbers are illustrating the political re-alignment that I believe is taking place in the post-Trump era and has echoes of the re-alignment during the Reagan-era.
According to Bitzer’s numbers, 20,365 Republicans have switched their registration. Of those, 17,691 have become unaffiliated while 2,674 registered as Democrats. In contrast, only 13,206 Democrats have left their party. The majority, 8,642 became unaffiliated voters while 4,564 became Republicans. According to another Tweet, the GOP change was 1% of their voters while the Democratic change was just .6% of their voters.
Among former unaffiliated voters, 8,062 switched their registration to Democrat while 8,687 switched to Republican. That’s .8% of all unaffiliated voters.
Voters are leaving the GOP in the same manner they left the Democratic Party after 1980. While many kept their registrations the same at first, their voting behavior changed. Democrats, especially in the South, initially began voting Republican but were slow to switch parties. By the 1990s, they started to become unaffiliated voters. That shift fueled the rise of unaffiliated voters that continues to this day.
Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, the vast majority of unaffiliated voters were conservative. That started to change in the Obama era when young people began registering as unaffiliated voters. They didn’t want to associate themselves with a party but they were voting Democratic largely because of social issues like marriage equality and civil rights.
I suspect those new unaffiliated voters leaving the GOP are transitioning to becoming Democratic voters. They may still vote for moderate Republicans, but they will largely reject Trumpism and the Republicans who embrace it. Many, probably most, will never affiliate with a party again.
In overall registration, the Democratic share of the registered voters will continue to fall. A fair number of Democrats who supported Reagan and other Republicans never switched their registration. Today, they are dying and they won’t be replaced by new Democrats. Instead, younger, more progressive voters who register unaffiliated will replace them at the ballot box.
Over the coming years, party registration will have less and less meaning when looking at the overall electorate. Unaffiliated voters will make up a plurality of registered voters within a decade. They will shift from leaning conservative to leaning more progressive. Major events could interrupt it, but by the 2030, as the Reagan Democrats die off and the state brings becomes more diverse, North Carolina will be more progressive than conservative. It could happen faster if the GOP can’t rid itself of Trumpism.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >