Popular opinion has proclaimed this to be the year of the new voter – one in which the surge in new registrants and their enthusiasm to vote will bring a “tidal wave” upon the political scene and usher in a new era of politics in North Carolina. However, if we look at the actual results of the May primary, this so-called tidal wave of new voter intensity is actually more like a ripple.
The increase in competitiveness of North Carolina’s Presidential primary, along with the apparent new enthusiasm brought about by the candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, were thought to bring about a new era of civic participation in our state. The media repeatedly speculated that the sheer number of new people registering to vote was proof of the coming change in the outcome of the elections. The number of new registered voters in North Carolina is indeed significant – in excess of 293,000 new voters registered between January 1, 2008 and the beginning of the early voting period on April 17.
However, these new registrants had less impact on the Primary election than anticipated for two reasons:
- Only 44 percent of new registrants actually voted
- New voters only made up 6 percent of the total turnout of voters on Primary day (an additional 1 percent registered and voted at One-Stop voting)
So despite the increase in new voters, less than half of those who made up that wave of new voters actually voted, and those who did made up only 7 percent of the overall total of voters.
If the numbers are broken out by party, it is clear there was higher intensity of voting among new Democratic registrants, which is to be expected given the competitiveness of the Presidential Primary.
Democrats – 147,439 new registrants – 53 percent of whom voted
Unaffiliateds – 85,267 new registrants – 31 percent of whom voted
Republicans – 60,312 new registrants – 22 percent of whom voted
About 94,000 new Democrats voted in the May primary. While that may seem like a large number, it still pales in comparison to the total 1.3 million Democrats who voted in the May primary and the nearly 5.9 million voters that are currently registered.
By comparison, in the four months leading up to the 2004 General Election, 383,000 new voters registered and 79 percent turned out and voted. For Democrats alone, 164,000 new voters registered and turned out at 76 percent. So the numbers seen in this Primary season are not out of the ordinary. In fact, one could make an argument that voter intensity is lower now than the General Election four years ago.
Next week, dispelling the Young Voter Myth.
Sr. Legislative & Polling Analyst