Unaffiliated voter surge

Newly minted data confirms what many area citizens are experiencing anecdotally. Demographics are shifting across Pinehurst, Southern Pines and surrounding communities. This is evidenced by just released voter registration statistics.

The Raleigh-based Civitas Institute, a self-described nonprofit policy organization, examined State Board of Elections voter registration data, beginning in early February (just after the Trump inauguration) through September 9, and finds surging numbers of “unaffiliated” voters. The trend actually began in 2009, at the outset of the Obama presidency, and coincides with a stark decline in voters registered as Democrats statewide.

As of September 2017, Civitas reports, unaffiliated voters narrowly outnumber voters registered as Republicans for the first time. What is behind the dramatic increase in unaffiliated registrants?

Since January 2009, Democrats have experienced a net loss of 229,368 registered voters. In 2009, Democrats made up 45.7 percent of the voter rolls; today they are at just 38.9 percent of the total voter registration. The unaffiliated ranks appear to have absorbed Democrats losses and more. Since January 2009, the unaffiliated bloc has seen a net gain of 652,823 voters and their share of the voter registration rolls have increased to 30.3 percent, up from 22.3 percent in 2009.

In Moore County, 502 unaffiliated registrants have been added to the rolls since February, while Republicans added 75 and Democrats shed 89 voters. Of the 65,642 registered Moore voters as of early September, nearly 41% are Republicans (26,806), 33.5% are unaffiliated (22,023), and 25.1% are Democrats (16,484). Fewer than 1% identify as Libertarians (329). To review other counties in the Civitas study, click here.

It is worth noting that in Wake County, where Democrats hold the majority among registrants (37.4% to 26.6% over Republicans), an unaffiliated bloc has emerged similar in size to the one in Moore. Unaffiliated voters in Wake account for 35.4% of registered voters, which presents an opportunity among Republicans in Wake to turn the tables on Democrats in the future.

Logically, we can assume that the uptick in unaffiliated voters reflects, in part, population growth fueled by young professionals and young married couples starting families, especially in Moore. Newly registered voters here, elsewhere in North Carolina, and across the nation, notes The Fayetteville Observer in a June 2017 op-ed, “will take (their) toll on traditional politics before long.” He cites research by Bob Hall of the voter advocacy group Democracy North Carolina:

Pinehurst stroller brigade
Population growth, driven by a younger demographic, gives rise to stroller traffic jams.

(Hall) believes all those new independent voters are going to steer the state away from the intense partisanship it endures today. Half of those unaffiliated voters are under age 41, Hall found in his research, while only a third of the Democrats and 30 percent of the Republicans are in that age group. Hall believes this will lead to “a notable bias for candidates outside the mainstream.”

“Ironically,” Hall says, “while the General Assembly is busy passing laws to add party labels to more statewide and local elections, new voters are rejecting the major parties at a record rate.” 

The challenge is clear and imminent. If Republicans want to convert these unaffiliated younger voters into votes for Republicans candidates (even if they choose not to become registered Republicans), our messaging must be laser-focused, more pragmatic and less partisan. This will require a concerted effort to hear from these voters on the issues they care most about. It is apparent they are unwilling to accept partisan gridlock, especially in Washington, and will be attracted to candidates that prove (rather than say) they get things done on tax reform, healthcare reform and immigration control.

We have witnessed this recently courtesy of the Trump presidency. President Trump sprung a debt ceiling deal on the Republican establishment by working with Democrat leaders Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. Old school conservative commentators such as Brit Hume at Fox News Channel were aghast. “Trump got rolled,” Hume concluded.

But early polling indicates that Trump voters approve of the bi-partisan deal because it demonstrates Trump’s commitment to shaking up Washington. That is why they elected him last November, not because he is a hardline conservative Republican. In fact, they elected him knowing he is not.

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