Friday, July 21, 2017

Half way through 2017, a look at NC's voter pool

As we enter the dog days of summer, I thought it would be good to take a look at the latest figures for the North Carolina registered voter pool at the half-way point of 2017, with data courtesy of the NC State Board of Elections.

First, the total pool of active and inactive voters stands at 6.7 million voters, down 2.5 percent from the 6.9 million recorded on January 1.

In the state, registering voters selected one of four party designations: Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or unaffiliated. Over the recent past, the fastest growing group in terms of party registration has been the "unaffiliated" (more on this later). To date, the voter pool divides into the following party registration:

North Carolina Voter Registration Pool as of 7-15-17
Registered Democrats have dropped below 40 percent of the total, while registered Republicans and unaffiliated voters are nearly equal (a difference of 13,335 voters separate Republicans and unaffiliated).

Next, a look at the racial composition of the state and the respective party categories:

Party Registration by Race for 7-15-17 North Carolina Voter Pool

White voters have slipped below 70 percent in the overall pool, while minority races (black/African-American, Asian, American Indian, multi-racial, other races, and unknown) are over 30 percent of the pool. Within the different party registrations, Democrats are now a majority-minority party, with only 45 percent white while Black/African-American voters are 46 percent. Registered unaffiliated voters are three-fourths white, while registered Republicans are 92 percent white.

Another key characteristic that I have been watching has been the "regionalism" of the state, divided into urban, suburban, and rural counties (based on the U.S. Office of Management & Budget's classification).

Party Registration by Region for 7-15-17 NC Voter Pool

The urban influence in North Carolina is striking, in that 54 percent of the 6.7 million voters live in an "urban" county, with another 22 percent in an adjacent suburban county. Rural counties are now less than a quarter of the state's voter pool, and likely to continue to shrink.

Not surprising, urban counties have a plurality of voters registered Democrats, while registered unaffiliated voters are now second, followed by registered Republicans. Republicans make up the plurality of suburban voters, with Democrats and unaffiliated voters tied, while rural counties have a traditional Democratic dominance (but that is not to be read as Democratic "voters", since these counties tend to be strong Republican areas, but not as strong as suburban counties).

One interesting dynamic has been the rise of the unaffiliated (not to be read necessarily as "independent") voter in North Carolina. In taking the 6.7 million voters and breaking them into their registration year, one sees the rise of the unaffiliated in stark terms, with the decline of both the two majority parties.

Year of Registration Since 1980 by Party Registration in North Carolina
Of the current voters who registered in 1980, 48 percent of them registered as Democrats, 39 percent as Republicans, and only 13 percent as unaffiliated. Over time, however, the steady march upwards of current voters registered with neither political party has been the hallmark of North Carolina, with the key exceptions in certain election years (such as 1988, 1990, 2004, 2008, 2010, and 2012). This year, so far, Democrats are bucking their historic trends in odd years with a rise in their registration, most likely due to national influences.

In looking at these yearly registration trends in urban, suburban and rural counties, one can see distinct differences in how the parties and unaffiliated have seen their numbers rise and fall.

Yearly Registration in NC Urban Counties Since 1980

Yearly Registration in NC Suburban Counties Since 1980

Yearly Registration in NC Rural Counties Since 1980

Another key characteristic of the registered voter pool in the Old North State has been based on generational cohorts. Using the birth years of each voter, one can classify them into cohorts: Greatest/Silent generation (born before 1945); Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1965); Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980); and Millennials (born in 1981 and after).

In classifying each generational cohort, you can first look at the party registrations:

Party Registration by Generation for 7-15-17 NC Voter Pool
The notable trend has been Millennials, who are significantly more "unaffiliated" than any other cohort. Generation Xers tend to be the "bridge" generation between Millennials and Baby Boomers, but in the next few months, it is likely that Baby Boomers and Millennials will be equal percentages of the voter pool: and then Millennials will begin to take over as the largest pool of NC registered voters.

In looking at each generation, registered NC Millennial voters are the most racially diverse.

Generation by Race for 7-15-17 NC Voter Pool

And where do these generations regionally reside?

Generation by Region for 7-15-17 NC Voter Pool

Taking the yearly registration numbers of the current voter registration pool, one can do similar analysis by the generation cohorts as they entered the voter pool. For example, Baby Boomers began to register in the mid-1960s, and reflected the end of the New Deal coalition by 1984 and the Reagan realignment:

Registration Year Percentages by Party Registration Among NC Baby Boomers
For Generation Xers, while their early members were registered more Democratic, the quick rise of the unaffiliated voter in this generation shows the potential dismay and lack of partisan affiliation (at least in registration) with either party:

Registration Year Percentages by Party Registration Among NC Generations Xers
Millennials, however, have entered the voter pool clearly divided between the two parties and unaffiliated, with Republicans unable in recent years to hit a quarter of new Millennials voters registering.

Registration Year Percentages by Party Registration Among NC Millennials

While the key take-away is the rise of both urban and unaffiliated voters, this year's increase in registered Democrats (so far) is probably due to the national environment and motivation and interest by Democrats against the Trump and Republican unified government in Washington. Watching this trend through the remainder of 2017 and into 2018 may give an indication of energy and enthusiasm heading into the 2018 mid-term elections for a continued battleground state like North Carolina.