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Republicans take the back seat... in voter registration

The number of voters registered as unaffiliated has surpassed the number of voters registered as Republican — making unaffiliated voters the second largest voting group in the state by over 500 voters.

According to North Carolina Voter Statistics, the number of voters in the state increased by 82,896 between Sept. 10, 2016 and Sept. 12, 2017. 

In North Carolina, there are about 2.6 million registered Democrats, 2.05 million Republicans, 33,000 Libertarians and 2.05 million unaffiliated voters.

The number of people registered as unaffiliated increased by almost 85,000, the number of people registered as Democrats decreased by about 33,000 and the number of people registered as Republicans increased by about 26,500. 

Robert Joyce, a professor at the UNC School of Government, said the unaffiliated proportion of registered voters in the state has been steadily climbing for a couple of decades.

"A couple of decades ago, both political parties in this state took advantage of a state law which allows that political party to permit unaffiliated voters to vote in the party primary," he said. "So it's rational for somebody to register unaffiliated." 

Ferrel Guillory, a UNC journalism professor, said unaffiliated voters are all kinds of people and have all kinds of allegiances and different attitudes. 

"Independent voters aren't simply moderate voters in the middle between Democrats on the left and Republicans on the right," he said. 

Guillory said North Carolina has a lot of young  people who moved here from elsewhere, and in this political climate new voters don't want to be affiliated with any party.  

He said the reason for the increase in unaffiliated voters in the state may be generational. 

"Those of us who are older, from different political times, may have formed political party allegiances early in our lives," he said. "I don’t think there’s so much anymore of parents passing down their party loyalty or party membership down to their kids. With millennials, they think for themselves.” 

Thomas Carsey, a UNC political science professor, said the rise in unaffiliated voters could be because of dissatisfaction with politics. 

“Some are genuinely independent of either political party, though they are politically engaged," he said. "Many are probably disenchanted with politics in general.”

Carsey said the shift may be caused by Republicans taking unpopular actions or failing to change policy in many areas. 

"Citizen approval of government activities is pretty low, and when your party controls those government activities, people are going to hold the party accountable," he said. 

Guillory said sometimes unaffiliated voters will make an impact in the state. 

"In a primary election, when Republicans and Democrats are choosing their nominees, unaffiliated voters are allowed to vote," he said. "They can only vote in one party or another."

He said unaffiliated voters tend to gravitate to the more competitive primary.

Carsey said in the short run the state will continue to see a closely divided electorate in hard-fought campaigns. 

"If the trend continues, it could lead one or both parties to make changes in order to try to broaden their appeal," he said. "What really matters is whether or not the people who register as an independent vote or not."

Guillory said this rise in unaffiliated voters affirms that North Carolina really is a purple state.

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