The conventional wisdom about North Carolina politics from 20 years ago is now about as useful as a rotary telephone. Tar Heel politics has been transformed in recent decades with breathtaking speed because of several factors: explosive population growth, urbanization and the rise of the unaffiliated voter.
That was some of the wisdom shared by two veteran Tar Heel political consultants, Paul Shumaker, a Republican, and Morgan Jackson, a Democrat, when they appeared last week at a lunchtime panel sponsored by the North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation, a business-financed group that provides nonpartisan political research.
Among their more interesting points:
Since 2010, the number of registered Democratic voters in the state has dropped by 4,711; the number of Libertarians has grown by 13,216; the number of Republicans has grown by 33,752, and the number of unaffiliated voters has grown by 242,818.
By far the biggest county for the growth of unaffiliated votes was Wake County. As both the Republican and Democratic parties become more polarized, unaffiliated voters are finding less to like with either party and are often turned off by the ideological stridency of the nominees produced by the parties. General elections are increasingly about trying to attract unaffiliated voters, who truly can swing in either direction. “It’s going to make the two parties stronger and more responsive in the end,” Shumaker said.
“The state senator you may have gone to church with for 30 years is no longer there,” Jackson said. “He may now live a couple of counties away now. You may never have met him.”