This has been a year like no other and it stands to reason that the November elections will be interesting, to say the least.
With the elections a little more than two months away, political ads, polling numbers and media pundits are starting to dominate the airwaves and bandwidths.
As we get closer to Nov. 3, the political noise will grow even more deafening.
Just who will be going to the polls on Nov. 3, here in Wilkes County and statewide?
Some fascinating answers to that question were recently published in a three-part series by Chapel Hill–based think tank Carolina Democracy, based on the latest data from the N.C. State Board of Elections.
As of Aug. 15, North Carolina had about 7.8 million voting-eligible adults and 7 million registered voters.
Among those voters, 36% were registered Democrat, 33% were unaffiliated and 30% were Republican. Less than 1% were registered to another party, mostly Libertarian.
Those numbers (and recently polls) suggest that North Carolina is a toss-up state in the upcoming presidential election. Tight races are expected for many state and local offices, too.
In Wilkes County, the partisan affiliation leans heavily toward Republican, as has been the historical trend.
Wilkes has the fourth-biggest pecentage share of Republican voters in the state (53%) among the state’s 100 counties.
The three counties with higher concentrations of Republicans are also in the northwestern part of the state: Yadkin (56%), Avery (58%) and Mitchell (60%).
Unaffiliated voters in Wilkes account for 27% of those on the rolls. Democrats make up almost 20% of the voter rolls in Wilkes. Less than half of 1% of the electorate are tied to the Libertarian, Constitution or Green parties.
The recent rise of the unaffiliated voter is being driven by young people. Two-thirds of the unaffiliated in the state first registered to vote in 2009 or later. Voters ages 18 to 34 are more likely to register as unattached to any political party.
The unaffiliated voter in North Carolina is racially diverse, with higher shares of Hispanic (4%) and Asian (2%) voters than the electorate overall.
Overall, 52% of Asian and 43% of Hispanic voters are registered as unaffiliated, compared with 35% of white voters.
Unaffiliated is the dominant political persuasion in adjacent Watauga County. Forty-three percent of the electorate in Watauga is unaffiliated, reflecting the young voters enrolled at Appalachian State University.
In Watauga, Republicans and Democrats make up 30% and 26% of the electorate, respectively.
Large numbers of unaffiliated voters are present in all areas of the state, making it difficult for regional patterns to emerge.
For example, coastal (Camden, Currituck) and Triangle (Orange, Wake) counties match or nearly match Watauga’s percentage share of the politically uncommitted.
The unaffiliated trend shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, in every year since 2014, more new voters in North Carolina are registering as unaffiliated instead of one of the two major parties.
If the current trends continue, it won’t be long before unaffiliated tops Democrat to become the largest group of registered voters in North Carolina.
Many political candidates and those concerned for the future of American democracy have already heard the alarm bells ringing after looking at the unaffiliated trends.
In a time when Republicans and Democrats seem to have little in common, politicians on both sides would be wise to pay attention to the attrition of party registration in North Carolina.
Especially in an election year like this, if you haven’t yet registered to vote, I would urge you to do so and make your voice heard on Nov. 3 (or sooner, with one-stop, early voting).
It’s a civic duty that none of us should forsake.