Voting trends and predictions

by | Aug 1, 2017 | Demographic Trends, Editor's Blog | 7 comments

The News & Observer has a very good article about voter trends in North Carolina. The reporter looks beyond just the registration numbers to examine trends in past elections and what to look for in 2018. He looks at money, enthusiasm and off-year turnout.

Democratic registration is falling pretty dramatically, Republican registration is rising slightly and Unaffiliated voters make up far more than half of new registrations. Democratic registration has been falling for more than forty years and will continue to fall for another decade or so. Most the drop comes from Jessiecrats dying off in rural counties. For years, these older white Democrats voted Republican in general elections but maintained their Democratic registration so they could vote in Democratic primaries in local elections like sheriff and county commissioner. As they pass away, Democratic registration will continue to drop, probably leveling off somewhere around 35% of registered voters.

For about fifteen years, Republican registration has held steady in the state, making up a little more than 30% of registered voters. From 1972 till the early 2000s, GOP registration grew as North Carolina shifted from a one-party state. The growth was both from Democrats who had been voting Republican changing registration and newcomers who had been historically Republican moving to the state. That growth has stopped.

The big change is the surge in unaffiliated voters who will probably surpass Republicans in the next year or so in registration numbers. They’ve grown from less than 10% of registered voters two decades ago to more than 30% today. They are the voters who will determine elections in the state.

We’ve reached a point in North Carolina where almost all swing voters are unaffiliated but not all unaffiliateds are swing voters. Many people who register unaffiliated vote reliably with one party or the other. In rural areas, unaffiliated voters tend to side with Republicans, but most younger unaffiliated voters support Democrats. Registration maybe helpful in identifying base voters for each party, but demographics will be a better predictor of unaffiliated voters’ preference and behavior.

As North Carolina grows and changes, elections will continue to be unpredictable. National trends and moods will have a greater impact here than in other states. In 2018, the public attitude toward Trump and the GOP Congress will probably drive turnout in the state more than anything else. The party with the more energized base is likely to do well next November.


  1. Kevin Jochems

    I do not reside in NC anymore…:( however I was born and raised in Cabarrus County and spent 13 years in Durham until moving to DC in 2000. I live in Colorado now. I still care about my homestate! I can count numerous friends in NC (young and old) whom have switched to unaffiliated so they can vote in the Republican primary for County Commission so as to try to help elect the most moderate Republicans instead of the more conservative ones. In counties like Cabarrus, Cleveland, Rowan, Davidson etc…I believe well meaning Democrats have done this to try to have an impact on their local races. While I am not suggesting this is the major reason unaffiliated voters are growing in NC, I do think this is another factor to be considered.

    Also- I love this blog Thomas and it is cool to comment on a thread where Walter DeVries is sharing his wisdom! I still have the book he co-wrote with Jack Bass.

  2. Jim Bartow

    This is anecdotal, but based more than a thousand of voter registrations that I handled in Orange county. Young AA women uniformly register as Democrats almost all other young people register as Unaffiliated.

  3. Walt de Vries, Ph.D.

    That was a good piece by Brian Murphy., thanks for bringing it to our attention.
    A couple of comments:
    I don’t think the movement from Democratic to Unaffiliated registration is caused primarily by the death of the Jessiecrats in Eastern North Carolina. A lot of it comes from dissatisfaction with national and state Democratic candidates and insufficient North Carolina Democratic party resources. I suspect that Trump, health care issues, and the GOP legislature will move many Republicans into the Unaffiliated column in the 15 months ahead of the November, 2018 election. But, registration numbers don’t predict elections.
    What we have now in North Carolina is three political parties each getting about one-third of the registered voters–and only two of them are officially organized and can nominate and support candidates and often with sporadic and insufficient resources..
    Today the Unaffiliated voters decide statewide and many local elections. What we don’t know is how many of them actually split their tickets between the Democratic and Republican candidates–the actual measure of “independence.”. Many do, but so do many voters who register as Democrats and Republicans. So, thereby predicting what voters will do does not depend on how they register–but how they actually vote. Perhaps looking at the way they perceive themselves (i.e., as Democrats, Republicans or Independents) might give us better clues, but, again, it all depends on their behavior over time and not voter registration or self-perception. All of this makes it enormously difficult to predict North Carolina elections and trends.
    That leaves us with turnout, doesn’t it? And, more unpredictability.
    North Carolina and national pollsters and commentators need to focus on better understanding the Unaffiliated voters and who votes straight party and those who split their tickets.

    • Walt de Vries, Ph.D.

      I forgot to add that while the movement in voter registration is basically to Unaffiliated (30%+) and away from the two political parties, the actual voting statistics show that ticket-splitting had drastically decreased. So, the question becomes, at a time when voters are moving away from two party registration to an Unaffiliated status (i.e., rejecting the two parties), why are they are now voting more straight ticket for Democratic and Republican candidates than before?. You would think the opposite should occur, yet today there is more movement to Unaffiliated registration–while ticket-splitting decreases! Plus voters now seem more ideologically committed to the two parties than before. Any one have any answers to those questions?

      • Norma Munn

        Not an answer, but a guess. I suspect that many people are disgusted with the “party” label, be it the GOP or the Dems. However, their general sense of preference in economic policy and cultural issues policy may not change too much. They also really don’t have a third party choice, and ticket splitting takes more thought than many actually give to these elections past the couple of hot button races. Inertia and habit are powerful rulers of our lives. What I want to know is how to move the non-voting person to becoming a voter, especially with the onslaught to social media.

      • Bill

        Could it be that voters register as unaffiliated because they are worried about job discrimination? Party registration is a public record, and there is no law against an employer discriminating based on political party affiliation.

      • Lee Mortimer

        A lot of UNAs clearly don’t like either party, but in the voting booth when they have to make a choice, they go “all the way” for what they see as the “lesser evil.” What’s needed is a change from winner-take-all elections to enable third alternatives to gain a foothold and give those UNAs a logical place to cast their vote.

Related Posts


Get the latest posts from PoliticsNC delivered right to your inbox!

You have Successfully Subscribed!