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N.C. millennials are overtaking baby boomers and shedding party politics at the polls


A handful of students — including first-years Becca Brandes, Molly Cartwright and Helen Hill — spelled it out for their peers in front of Polk Place.

The political landscape in North Carolina is changing rapidly as the number of voters in the state registered as unaffiliated has increased sharply, and this may point to a larger trend of young voters choosing to distance themselves from the two major political parties. 

Voter registration data from the North Carolina State Board of Elections shows that the number of unaffiliated voters increased by 12 percent from September 2016 to September 2018. Meanwhile, the number of registered Democrats decreased by 0.3 percent, and the number of registered Republicans increased by 3 percent.

Logan Smith, spokesperson for Progress North Carolina, said unaffiliated voters are not necessarily moderate or swing voters but voters who do not identify with either of the country’s two major parties. 

“Just because someone is registered unaffiliated does not mean that they’re not politically active. I work in politics, and I’m registered unaffiliated,” he said. “Maintaining one’s independence and willingness to look at all options does not preclude one from being active as a voter and getting involved in the political process.”

Smith said millennials will overtake baby boomers as the largest generation in the United States next year. This means younger generations have a tremendous amount of political power, and they are already putting it to use by running for office, organizing communities and spearheading campus activism efforts. 

The North Carolina Public Interest Research Group is an organization at UNC focused on student advocacy. It's part of a national network of student-run groups that focuses on issues it believes matter to college students, such as campus sustainability, protecting democracy and college affordability. 

Bridget Killian, coordinator for NCPIRG’s New Voters Project, said the group aims to create a culture of civic engagement and participation, especially on college campuses. 

“We’re working to make sure that everyone on campus, at the very minimum knows about the elections,” she said. “Midterm elections are really important, and we want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to vote, that they know where to go to vote, that they can register.”

Throughout the semester, NVP will host events to register students to vote and encourage students to vote in local elections. Killian said NCPIRG is communicating with other organizations on campus about collaborating on events so more students can be involved.

“We’re throwing a Party at the Polls as part of an experiment. We’re going to have music, food, games, hopefully animals,” she said.

Rachel Raper, director of the Orange County Board of Elections, said in an email that citizens will vote in federal, state, judicial and local races this November. Constitutional amendments and an affordable housing bond referendum will also be on the ballot.

“Get a few friends and walk to your polling place on Election Day or take advantage of one of our many early voting opportunities,” she said. “Proudly post those I Voted stickers/selfies on social media. Talking about voting may prompt someone to pay attention and go vote.”

Killian said she hopes more people think of being politically active as a norm and not simply a chore they have to get done.

“This is our society, this is the world we live in, and our voices matter,” she said. “We know that our democracy works best when everybody’s voice is heard, so we really want to give college students — and everyone — the opportunity to have their voices heard.”

Smith said he sees the rise in unaffiliated voters and campus activism as an indication that young people recognize the status quo does not always work for their interests. 

“We want something new, whether that’s one or both of the big two parties changing their style or changing some of their rhetoric to better suit the voters they’re trying to reach, or something new coming along,” he said. “Either way, we’re seeing now that people are tired of business as usual, and it’s time for all of us to stand up.”

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