North Carolina’s unaffiliated voter population is growing. Who are they and why don’t they align themselves with a party?


For the first time in nearly 20 years, the largest percentage of registered voters in North Carolina do not affiliate with any political party.

According to data from the NC State Board of Elections last month, 36% of registered voters are “unaffiliated.” This is double the percentage of unaffiliated registered voters in 2004 – there are registration registers available for every year since 2004.

“My grandmother voted in the first presidential election where women were allowed to vote. As a young girl, I remember her often telling me, “It’s not the party.” He’s the man,” said Deborah C. Wooley of Weaverville, just outside of Asheville.

Some of North Carolina’s 2.6 million unaffiliated voters are people who were previously affiliated with a political party and have changed their registration. North Carolina’s changing political profile may contribute to a broader national trend seen in other states such as Colorado, Florida and Arizona, where unaffiliated voters are also most common. Others have registered as unaffiliated since they first voted.

Wooley was one of more than 75 respondents to Carolina Public Press’ request that readers submit their reasons for signing up as unaffiliated. The survey was available in English and Spanish.

Unaffiliated voters across the state submitted responses that provide insight into this rapidly growing group.

The North Carolina Party System

North Carolina recognizes four political parties: Democrat, Republican, Green, and Libertarian. The state also recognized the Constitutional Party until 2021.

When registering, voters must choose one of these parties or choose not to be affiliated. If they do not select a party on the form, they are automatically considered unaffiliated voters.

If North Carolinians register with a specific party, they can only receive a ballot for that party’s candidates in the primary election, per state guidelines. If unaffiliated, they can choose a Republican, Democratic, and Green party in a Libertarian ballot. In general elections, the ballots are the same for all voters in a given constituency.

It has not always been so. It was not until the NC General Assembly passed House Bill 47 in 1978 that voters could register as unaffiliated. That meant it cost them a vote in the primary election. This changed in 1987 with House Bill 559, which allowed voters to choose a ballot in primary elections.

CPP survey responses

Earlier this month, the CPP launched a bilingual, statewide survey to better understand unaffiliated voters in North Carolina. Of the 78 responses, almost a third of CPP respondents alluded to having a choice in the primary election as the main reason for registering as unaffiliated.

“I can vote in either primary to at least help ensure that both parties field their best candidate. I don’t like feeling that if the right candidate from one party loses, the the other’s bad candidate wins, so we’re in the proverbial stream. L. Richard Lowe of Kannapolis wrote.

Many of these answers, such as by Ruth Balwindisplayed a general distaste for the political system.

“Not being affiliated reflects my displeasure with the two-party system in this country,” Baldwin, of Henderson County, wrote. Baldwin has always registered as unaffiliated.

RPC survey respondents wrote that lack of representation and dissatisfaction with political parties led them to register as unaffiliated.

“I am on the left end of the political spectrum and used to register as a Democrat, but as I have developed my political identity more over the past few years, I have felt less and less less represented by the Democratic Party,” said Alexander Wall of Raleigh.

A 2020 study by academics across the state found that the largest percentage of unaffiliated voters in North Carolina were those 40 and under.

“In 2020, Millennials and Gen Z voters made up 46% of unaffiliated voters (33% Millennials and 13% Gen Z), compared to 34% of Democratic voters and 29% of Republican voters. wrote the researchers, clarifying that the term “millennials” represents people born between 1981 and 1996, and “Gen Z” represents those born after 1997.

Researchers, such as those at the Pew Research Center and Harvard University, have linked this tendency to remain unaffiliated, and often unengaged, to young people’s mistrust or lack of trust in government.

“For me, choosing a label feels like I’m defining myself by the political decisions of those who are more likely to work for the party than for me and my most vulnerable neighbors. What’s the point of joining a unified voice if it doesn’t speak for me? ” wrote Sara Pequeno in an opinion piece published in March in the News & Observer.

“A bridge” between two parties

In addition to age, the study of unaffiliated voters in North Carolina revealed trends in the ethnicities of those who register as unaffiliated.

Whites in North Carolina make up the largest percentage of unaffiliated voters, according to the study, but that percentage has steadily declined — from 80% in 2008 to 66% in 2020.

Black or African American unaffiliated voters have historically made up between 11% and 12% of unaffiliated voters.

The largest percentage increase in terms of ethnicity was seen among Latino voters, those who select “other ethnicity” on the voter registration form, and those who choose not to report ethnicity.

In 2008, Latino and Hispanic voters made up 2% of unaffiliated voters. In 2020, they represented 4%.

Table 1: Race/Ethnicity by party registration, 2008-2020. Source: “The Rise of the Unaffiliated Voter in North Carolina”

Similarly, voters who did not specify or provide an ethnicity made up 7% of unaffiliated voters in 2008 and 19% in 2020.

“In terms of demographics, unaffiliated registered voters tend to represent a ‘bridge’ between the two groups of registered voters supporting Democrats and Republicans,” the researchers wrote.

The “bridge” occurs because unaffiliated voters are more ethnically diverse than Republicans, but not as ethnically diverse as Democrats.

What does the growing number of unaffiliated voters mean?

The growing number of unaffiliated voters shows dissatisfaction with the state’s political parties and the political system as a whole.

North Carolina residents have many reasons for their state becoming one of the 12 most common unaffiliated voters, according to an analysis of unaffiliated voters from UNC Chapel Hill.

Many scholars have postulated that the growing number of unaffiliated voters could lead to a change in the functioning of the current two-party political system.

With the population of unaffiliated voters growing more than any other political party, the number of unaffiliated voters is unlikely to change soon.

“It means voters in North Carolina have a choice to make. They can choose to express their partisanship, receive the (mostly social) benefits of party membership but be limited in which primary they can choose, or they can choose to register as a voter unaffiliated, “cover” their political beliefs and maximize their choice. in primary,” the researchers wrote.

The rise in the number of unaffiliated voters, both in North Carolina and beyond, is a trend that should not be ignored – it could mean the loss of political party membership or support for a political system with which many are dissatisfied.

Election day is November 8. Ballots are already being cast by early voting, which ends Nov. 5.

Do you have questions about voting? Check out Carolina Public Press’s in-depth guides for absentees and new voters, learn more about early voting, and test your knowledge of voting in the state with our quiz. It’s also not too late to take the unaffiliated survey here in English and in spanish here.


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