Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 Year in Review of NC's Registered Voters

by Michael Bitzer

With the end of 2019 comes a status report of where North Carolina stands in terms of voter registration and the patterns that we have seen over the past year, based on data from the NC State Board of Elections.

With the January 5, 2019 count of registered voters (active, inactive, and temporary status) compared to the December 28 count, North Carolina's voter pool saw a net increase of 273,238 voters, or four percent, at the end of 2019. Of the state's one hundred counties, all but two saw net increases in their voter rolls: Montgomery and Yancey counties saw declines in their total voters.

As expected, the major urban counties saw their numbers increase the most: Mecklenburg (home to Charlotte) saw a net increase of 34,314; Wake (with Raleigh), a net increase of 32,703; Guilford (with Greensboro), a net increase of 11,329; and Cumberland (with Fayetteville), a net increase of 10,301.

In comparison to the state's percentage increase of voters (of 4 percent), 31 counties saw a larger increase than the state, with both Onslow and Brunswick doubling the state rate (eight percent), Currituck and Johnston at seven percent, and Cabarrus, Hoke, Lincoln, and Union counties seeing a six percent increase in their voter registration from the beginning of the year.

Among party registration (Democratic, Unaffiliated, Republican, and the three minor parties--Libertarian, Green, and Constitution), unaffiliated voters claimed the largest number of net additions, at over 157,000. Registered Republicans increased over 68,000, while registered Democrats increased their numbers by 40,000. This unaffiliated status increase continued to impact the state-wide percentages, with registered Democrats at 37 percent, registered unaffiliated voters at 33 percent, and registered Republicans at 30 percent; the three minor parties totaled one percent of the 6.8 million voters at year's end.

One third of the 100 counties have a registered unaffiliated percentage above the state's unaffiliated percentage, with Watauga, Transylvania, Currituck, Camden, Henderson, and Dare counties all at forty percent registered unaffiliated or greater. Among registered Democrats, 48 counties have a higher percentage of their voters than the state, while among registered Republicans, 54 counties have a higher percentage of their voters than the state's percentage of registered GOP members.

On January 5, fourteen counties made up half of the 6.5 million registered voters, but at the end of 2019, it took only twelve counties to make up half of the year-ending 6.8 million registered voters. The two largest counties, Wake and Mecklenburg, held nearly 22 percent of the state's voters, with Guilford, Forsyth (Winston-Salem), Durham, Cumberland, Buncombe (Asheville), New Hanover (Wilmington) rounding out of the urban counties. Three of the remaining four counties are surrounding suburban counties to Charlotte: Union, Gaston, and Cabarrus, with Johnston as the last county to make the 50 percent state-wide mark.

Top Dozen Counties that make up 50 percent of NC registered voters
In looking at these top dozen voter counties, the party registration percentages show the urban-suburban divide in the state:

Among these top dozen counties, registered Democrats are slightly ahead of their state-wide percentage, while barely a quarter (26 percent) of voters in these counties are registered Republicans.

Conversely, 71 counties have less than one percent each of the state's total voters, and collectively make up 27 percent of the state's total registration. These counties, collectively, are 36 percent registered Democrats, 33 percent registered Republicans, and 30 percent registered unaffiliated.

The remaining counties--the 'middle 17'--are primarily surrounding suburban counties, with 22 percent of the state's voters. Registered Republicans lead with 35 percent of the registration, followed by unaffiliated voters at one-third, and registered Democrats at 32 percent.

When looking at the monthly party registrations for 2019, unaffiliated registration dominated both political parties throughout the year, ending up with 43 percent of the year's voter registration, followed by registered Democrats with 29 percent and registered Republicans at 27 percent.

Another trend that is continuing in North Carolina's voter pool is generational replacement, with a plurality of registered voters in 2020 under the age of 40, meaning Millennials and Generation Z could constitute the largest block of potential voters for the November election--if they show up.

Among the 6.8 million registered voters at year's end, nearly 35 percent are Millennials and Generation Z, compared to 31 percent who are Boomers and 26 percent who are Generation X. Both Millennials and Gen Z are going 'unaffiliated' in their party registration.

During 2019, Millennials and Generation Z held the largest percentage of new registrations as well, ending the year with 58 percent of the year's new voters.

Another tectonic shift occurring in NC's voter pool is based on geographic location. In looking at the state's urban/suburban/rural regions--meaning, those voters who live in urban central cities, those who live outside the central city but inside the urban county, those who live in surrounding suburban counties, and those who are in rural counties--urban counties continue to dominate the state's voter pool, and respectively, the Democratic party registration.

Registered Democrats are nearly half of the state's central city voters, while the two parties and unaffiliated status are nearly evenly split among voters who live in urban counties but outside of the central city limits. Registered Republicans are nearly 40 percent of the surrounding suburban counties.

When looking at the voter pool by party registration within regions, 60 percent of registered Democrats are in urban counties--either within the central city (37 percent) or outside the central city but inside the urban county (another 23 percent).

Conversely, almost a third of the state's registered Republicans are in surrounding suburban counties, while only 47 percent are in urban counties. In total, 55 percent of the state's voters are in urban counties, with 24 percent in surrounding suburban counties and 21 percent in rural counties.

Finally, in looking at the racial breakdown heading into the 2020 campaign year, the racial divide within party registration is still quite stark in NC voter registration percentages.

White voters are 41 percent registered Republican, while Black/African-American voters are 79 percent registered Democratic.

Among the 6.8 million registered NC voters, 56 percent identify as white/non-Hispanic/Latino, with another 11 percent identifying as racially white but with no reported ethnicity identified. Among the 206,000 Hispanic/Latino voters in the state, 43 percent are registered unaffiliated, 42 percent are registered Democratic, and only 13 percent are registered Republican.

In 2020, we should see another increase in voter registration numbers, due to what many perceive as a high level of interest already in the campaign and election. In 2016, NC's voter rolls increased by 8 percent, or over half-a-million voters, while in 2018, the rolls increased 4 percent, or over 300,000 voters.

As any campaign will tell you, it's all about who shows up to vote in November, and this year will likely be more of about 'mobilizing and energizing' each party's respective voters, as compared to 'persuading' the other side to cross party loyalty and vote for the opposition candidate. As we head into what most expect to be a competitive and intense campaign, the numbers and patterns for the voters of the Old North State will be critical to watch over the next eleven months.