North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation
October 9, 2012
The 2012 General Election is just four short weeks away, and North Carolina remains among the most competitive states in the nation, especially in the presidential race. This unprecedented attention has resulted in substantial efforts by the candidates’ campaigns, by the political parties and by outside groups to boost voter registration in North Carolina with the hopes of getting enough supporters to the polls to push their candidates over the top. In late August, the NC FreeEnterprise Foundation conducted an analysis of voter registration changes in North Carolina since the 2008 General Election (which Barack Obama won in N.C. by a razor-thin 14,177 votes). Understanding the universe of voters and the demographics of those eligible to vote in this year’s election is an important component of evaluating political trends and likely electoral outcomes in a state as dynamic as ours. Today, we update the numbers we shared a couple of months ago and augment that analysis by taking a look at long-term voter registration shifts in the state.
Latest Voter Registration Numbers
Since our last voter registration report on August 23, there has been an increase of nearly 120,000 new registered voters in North Carolina, bringing the total number of voters in the state to over 6.5 million. Both parties have been pushing hard to get eligible citizens registered and primed for voting. Thus far, these efforts seem to have maintained the overall pattern of voter registration changes in recent years. Both major political parties have lost “political market share” in the state since the 2008 election – Democrats more so than Republicans. Unaffiliated voters continue to grow their ranks across North Carolina, now constituting 25.6 percent of the state’s electorate. White voters also continue to see their relative share of the state’s registered voters shrink as the growth of registered minority voters out-paces them. There are nearly 93,000 more African-American voters in North Carolina compared to 2008, while the number of White voters has increased by 69,000 during the same time. (See the table below for details.)
Voter Registration Changes in North Carolina (Nov. 2008 – Oct. 2012)
The period since our last voter registration report is typically when both parties and outside groups make their biggest pushes to sign up new voters through voter registration drives, Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts, etc. Below is a chart that takes a closer look at the net change from week to week in voter registration by party. Overall, Democrats have registered more voters than Republicans, except for one week where both parties experienced a net loss of registered voters that was likely due to the state and local boards of elections cleaning up their voter registration rolls. This difference between the parties was quite small until the past three weeks when Democrats widened the gap. This recent surge in Democratic registrations, however, has not been enough to reverse longer-term trends, as Democrats still have 63,000 fewer registered voters in N.C. than they did in 2008.
Net Change in Voter Registration by Party
During our recent statewide political briefing tour, we shared data on long-term voter registration changes in North Carolina going back to the early 1990’s. These figures help to put more recent changes into a broader context. The two charts below highlight the changes in partisan registration and the shifts in voter registration by race. When looking at the voter registration changes by party, Democrats have seen a clear downward trend since 1993 when they represented 59.5 percent of the state’s electorate. They now make up only 43.1 percent. However, Democratic losses in the state haven’t corresponded with Republican gains. In 1993, Republicans represented 32.4 percent of registered voters, and today they are just 31 percent. Not surprisingly, unaffiliated voters have been growing steadily since 1993, increasing dramatically from 8.1 percent to 25.6 percent today.
Long-Term Voter Registration Patterns
Despite the declining trend, these demographic changes are not entirely bad for Democrats. Minority voters have been an important part of the Democratic base for a long time, and their share of the state’s electorate is growing. African-American voters constituted 17.7 percent of the state’s voters in 1993, and they now represent 22.2 percent. Voters identifying as other races have made similar gains. Conversely, White voters made up 81.2 percent of all registered voters in 1993, but since that time, their percentage has declined to 71.7 percent. This has resulted in an electorate in North Carolina that is becoming increasingly more diverse.
North Carolina Voter Registration by Party 1993-Present
North Carolina Voter Registration by Race 1993-Present
We noted in our August report that despite a voter registration deadline of October 12 (this Friday), individuals who are not registered to vote can still register and vote during North Carolina’s one-stop early voting, which takes place between October 18 – November 3 this year. In 2008, 105,307 new voters registered during one-stop early voting, and these voters skewed Democratic. Recall, once again, that President Obama won North Carolina by just over 14,000 votes. One-stop early voting was pivotal in the 2008 presidential election, and it has the potential to play a similar role this year as well.
This article was posted with permission of the North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation.
Editor’s Note: Voter Registration in North Carolina ends this week, Friday, October 12. This is the most critical election in our lifetime. Please make certain that you are registered to vote.
-Dr. Mark H. Creech