The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday December 4th

Not so independent after all

As Democrats attempt to woo independent voters at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this week, political analysts say the number of state residents able to be swayed has narrowed in recent elections.

According to Public Policy Polling, a left-leaning polling firm based in Raleigh, most registered independent voters — whose numbers have swelled in recent years — still reliably vote Democratic or Republican.

By The Numbers:

1.6 million
N.C. registered independents
2 million
N.C. registered Republicans
2.7 million
N.C. registered Democrats
10 percent
“True swing voters” in N.C.
27 percent
Independent voters under 30

About 2.7 million people identify themselves as Democrats, 2 million as Republicans, and 1.6 million as independents, according to N.C. voter registration data.

But Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, said less than half of those 1.6 million are truly undecided.

“I think it is fair to say that 10 percent of all North Carolina voters are true swing voters,” he said.

Jensen said the largest percentage of these swing voters — young voters — are most likely to vote for either party.

A survey released by the polling firm Monday found that though President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney are tied at 48 percent in the state, Romney leads among independents by 11 percentage points.

But Jensen said that even though Obama is losing among independents in the state, the president could still eke out a victory due to Democrats’ advantage in registered voters.

UNC journalism professor Ferrel Guillory said he’s also observed a decreasing number of truly unaffiliated voters.

“The actual way voters perform suggests that there has been a dwindling supply of actually independent voters and an increasing number that are taking sides,” he said.

He attributed voters’ positions to the ideological divide between both parties.

“Republicans are, as a group, not about raising or even cutting taxes — they are about privatization. Democrats want to shore up the public sector and see it as necessary to having a vital democratic system,” he said.

“There is hardly any common ground between the parties, so independents find themselves without a middle ground to go to.”

Jensen said that the state’s recent influx of residents from northeastern states compounds the “independents trend,” as voters reluctant to identify with either party register as unaffiliated.

Guillory calls this trend a “paradox of politics” as people feel less pressure to affiliate with Democrats or Republicans even though their values are increasingly aligning with either party.

Aaron Lutkowitz, an economics major at UNC, said he believes that young voters identify as independents for a similar reason.

“Young voters sometimes have a ‘rage against the machine’ attitude that makes them believe that they should reject the system,” he said. “They hate big business, anything that seems like a corporation or that seems like a monopolization of power.”

And Jensen said a more significant voter shift might be on the horizon.

“The very big picture is that our generations are sort of the greatest threat to the two-party system,” he said.

Public Policy Polling’s most recent poll found that 27 percent of voters younger than 30 identified as independents while only 17 percent of those over 65 did.

“I think this eventually means that we may have more than two party options — perhaps even by the time the 20-to-30 age cohort moves to the 35-to-45-year-old cohort,” Jensen said.

Contact the desk editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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