Two trends have shaped political party registration in the battleground state of North Carolina over the past two decades.
First, the percentage of registered Democrats in this onetime Democratic bastion has declined from nearly 48% of all voters in 2004 to 34% now, according to registration numbers from the North Carolina State Board of Elections.
That’s similar to what’s happened in other southern states since the Civil Rights Era.
Second, and maybe more surprisingly, those who register as unaffiliated with either major party now make up the largest share of voters in the state, outnumbering Democrats and Republicans.
Indeed, since 2004, the percentage of unaffiliated voters in the state has doubled from nearly 18% to more than 35%.
“This has happened relatively quickly,” said Dr. Martin Kifer, chair of the political science department at High Point University in High Point, N.C. “Half of unaffiliated voters in the state registered in just over the last 12 years. And it’s young people.”
Carolina Demography, a group of demographic researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has found that this increase has mainly been since 2009 — and that it comes primarily from young voters.
A 2020 analysis by the group finds that 43% of people ages 18 to 34 registered as unaffiliated, compared to 35% of those ages 35 to 54.
And as North Carolina hosts a key Senate contest in November, as well as remains a presidential battleground state, these young, unaffiliated voters could play an outsized role in which party wins in the Tar Heel State.
“In 2020, North Carolina had a huge turnout of 75% of registered voters. They voted to re-elect Donald Trump, but then voted to re-elect Roy Cooper, a Democratic governor,” Kifer of High Point University said.
“This year was the first time that we had more people who were registered unaffiliated, and so what that means is they can, among other things, vote in either primary,” he added.