Unaffiliated voters are registering in record numbers, rivaling Democrats in their weekly increase in registration. There are 1.3 million unaffiliated voters – 22 percent of the electorate – and they are increasing more rapidly than Democrats or Republicans. While some counties still have few unaffiliated voters, the unaffiliated registration in other counties surpasses the registration of one party or the other.
Since 2004, unaffiliated voters have gained 3 percentage points, moving from 19 percent of the electorate to 22 percent. This gain is the result of shifts in registration from both Democratic and Republican to unaffiliated. Democrats, who now make up 45 percent of the electorate, have lost 1.4 percent since 2004; Republicans, who now make up 33 percent, have lost 1.3 percent. It also appears that most unaffiliated voters are in fact new voters, not those switching parties. A review of Wake County data reveals that 80 percent of new unaffiliated voters are newly registered in the county.
Like many trends, there is considerable variation in registration across the state. Unaffiliated voters make up a significantly higher percentage of new registrants in certain key areas compared to their percentage of pre-2008 registrants. Notably, the northeast and the west – areas in which Republicans have made significant gains in the last eight years – are now instead registering high percentages of unaffiliated voters. The percentage of voters without party affiliation varies from a low of 8 percent in Edgecombe County to a high of 33 percent in Currituck County. This means that attention paid by local candidates to unaffiliated voters will vary substantially from county to county. (See maps)
Unaffiliated voters increased by 150,000 between November 2004 and January 2008. They increased by another 125,000 in 2008. This amounts to an increase of 27 percent over 2004 and 11 percent over the beginning of this year. When we compare these changes to the 4 percent increase in Democratic registration and the 2 percent increase in Republican registration since 2004, we see the potential for unaffiliated voters to have a greater voice in many elections this year – at the national, statewide, and local levels.
The maps below show the ratio of registered Republicans to Democrats in each county. A ratio of 1:3 means that, for every registered Republican in the county, there are three registered Democrats – there are three times as many Democrats as Republicans. A ratio of 3:2 means that, for every three registered Republicans, there are two registered Democrats – there are one and a half times as many Republicans as Democrats.