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In My Opinion


Women, unaffiliated voters are key in N.C.

By Fannie Flono
Associate Editor
Jack Betts
Fannie Flono writes on news, politics and life in The Carolinas. Her column appears on the Editorial pages of The Charlotte Observer.

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  • Voter registration trends


    • Unaffiliated voters are now 26 percent of all N.C. registered voters, up from 22 percent in 2008 and 8 percent in 1993

    • Democrats make up 43 percent of N.C. registrations, down from 60 percent in 1993 and 46 percent in 2008.

    • Republicans make up 31 percent of N.C. registrations, in 1993 and 2008, it was 32 percent

    • Whites make up 71 percent of registered voters, down from 73 percent in 2008 and 81 percent in 1993

    • Blacks make up 23 percent of registered voters, close to the 22 percent in 2008; it was 18 percent in 1993

    • Persons aged 41-65 were the largest group of registered voters with 2,871,950

    • Black unaffiliated voters increased 21.8 percent since 2008 to 184,927; white unaffiliated voters increased 18.9 percent to 1.3 million

    • Hispanic registrations are up 71.2 percent since 2008 to 116,492

On Tuesday, Democracy North Carolina released intriguing new information on voter registration trends in North Carolina.

If you’ve been following N.C. politics, you probably won’t be surprised by one key finding – that the number of independent or unaffiliated voters is increasing at a rapid pace, stealing potential voters from both major political parties.

That’s a nationwide trend. Across the country, more and more citizens are abandoning the Democrats and Republicans as they’ve become disaffected with the strident partisanship at work in both parties. A 2011 USA Today analysis of U.S. voting patterns showed more than 2.5 million voters had left the Democratic and Republican parties since the 2008 elections. In that period, the number of independents swelled by 400,000 to 24 million.

Similar disenchantment seems at work in this state with the two major parties. The number of registered voters in North Carolina has increased by 210,000 since November of 2008 to 6,475,000 this November, the nonpartisan voting advocacy group said. But the number of Democrats shrunk by 102,800 and the number of Republicans by 12,400.

By contrast, the number of unaffiliated voters grew by 22 percent to 1,698,544 registered voters this year from 1,392,011 five years ago. That growth accounted for most of the new registrants in North Carolina since 2008. And in a crucial demographic – young voters 18-25 – registered unaffiliates (298,790) outnumbered Republicans (195,179), and nearly outnumbered Democrats (301,310).

Democracy North Carolina Executive Director Bob Hall rightly noted: “More North Carolinians, especially new residents and young voters, are refusing to embrace or perhaps even understand a party’s philosophy. That will make it harder for the parties to mobilize voters as their core supporters decline, particularly in a non-presidential year like 2014.”

The numbers may give Republicans more hope than Democrats. While registered Democrats still significantly outnumber registered Republicans in North Carolina – 2.7 million to 1.9 million – Republicans lost far fewer registered voters than Democrats. Aided by new voting districts that GOP lawmakers masterfully carved out in 2011 to create safe seats for Republicans over the next decade, Republicans are in the catbird seat in many N.C. legislative and congressional races.

Yet, there is this: Women still outnumber men by 500,000 voters in North Carolina, the analysis of State Board of Elections records shows. Said Hall: “If women consolidated around a message or messenger, they’d dominate state politics.”

Given how shabbily the GOP-dominated legislature and GOP Gov. Pat McCrory treated women during the last legislative session, that could pose a potential problem for Republicans.

There is a long list of grievances women can cite: Lawmakers sneakily and unwisely passed a last-minute bill limiting access to abortion and other women's health services – and McCrory broke a campaign pledge and signed that bad bill it into law. Lawmakers refused to expand Medicaid benefits which cut 200,000 N.C. women from insurance coverage. Lawmakers voted to end the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit which the 40 percent of N.C. families headed by single women rely on to stay above the poverty line. Lawmakers slashed state education funding and gave no raises to teachers, 80 percent of whom are women.

Still, over the past five years, white women have abandoned the Democrats more than anyone. From 2008 to this year, Democratic voter registrations for that group dropped by 113,374; for white men during the same period, the decline was 96,756. By contrast, voter registrations were up for both black women (31,105) and black men (33,373).

And this will no doubt surprise some: There are now more black women registered as Democrats than are white men –720,213 to 552,645. That trend started in 2008 but only a 40,000 registration gap existed then. Now the gap has nearly quadrupled. White women still lead Democratic registrations at 797,047.

Whites abandoned the Republican Party in much fewer numbers than they did Democrats – just 20,669 left. Of black Republicans, registrations shrunk by 3,080 from the 38,878 in 2008. A total of only 6,653 women left the Republican fold during that period.

For white women, who dominated the protests of N.C. legislative changes, lawmakers’ shenanigans could move some back to the Democrats’ arms. But for now Hall aptly notes: “They are split by party and a growing minority is disenchanted with partisan politics.”

That disenchantment could push more N.C. women into the unaffiliated ranks where they already top men in registrations – 845,105 to 815,119. In 2008, they were ahead of men by about the same margin – 701,741 to 670,277.

For N.C. women and for independents, there is clearly power in their votes. In 2010, women nationwide narrowly voted for Republicans in the midterm elections and that cost Democrats control of the House. As the 2014 midterm elections loom, candidates might want to start thinking about that – if they haven’t already.

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