Raleigh, N.C. — More voters chose to register with no party affiliation than as Republican or Democrat over the past five years, a recent survey of voter registration statistics shows.
The numbers, compiled last month by Democracy North Carolina, show that, between 2008 and the end of 2013, unaffiliated voters grew from 22 percent of those registered to vote in North Carolina to more than 26 percent. During that same five-year period, Democrats and Republicans saw their shares of the electorate fall by 3.6 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively.
This is not a new trend, but the numbers are especially stark compared to 20 years ago, when unaffiliated voters made up only 8 percent of the population.
Bob Hall, director of Democracy North Carolina, said that most voter registrations come from new voters, such as those turning 18, or from those moving in from out of state. In both cases, he said, those voters may not be sure which political party suits them.
"They may want to pause and not make a choice, if they don't have to make a choice," Hall said.
In North Carolina, there is little disincentive to register as unaffiliated. Such voters can choose which party's primary they will vote in every year, a choice not available to similar voters in other states.
Although voter registration statistics vary widely from county to county, the unaffiliated trend is steady across the state.
"In every county except Hoke, a majority of new voters are choosing not to sign up as Democrats or Republicans – and that’s about the only feature the counties seem to have in common," according to Hall's report.
"People move away from the major political parties when they're dissatisfied," said Steve Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University.
Greene cautions that unaffiliated voters are not a monolithic group. Rather, people from all parts of the political spectrum – from very conservative tea party adherents to ultra-liberals and those without strong feelings on politics – chose to identify without party affiliation. It would be a mistake, he said, to imagine them as a cohesive voting bloc that shares some common ideology or might coalesce into a new political party.
"The vast majority of those people have a strong preference for one party or the other," Greene said.
In two counties – Currituck and Watauga – unaffiliated voters outnumber both registered Republicans and Democrats. In 42 other counties, they outnumber either Republicans or Democrats. For example, unaffiliated voters outnumber Republicans in Durham, Wake and Orange counties.