Monday, August 28, 2023

A (Too Early) Look at No Labels Registrants in North Carolina

By Christopher Cooper

On Sunday, August 13, the North Carolina State Board of Elections voted 4-1 to recognize "No Labels" as an official political party in North Carolina. No Labels joined the Democratic, Republican, Green, and Libertarian Parties as the state's only registered parties, although the largest group of registrants in the state remains Unaffiliated

Last Saturday, the North Carolina voter registration file was updated with the first wave (really more like a ripple) of No Labels registrants. So, who are these early adopters? 

North Carolina's first No Labels member registered to vote on August 18, 2023. As of Saturday August 26, 2023, 163 North Carolinians from 56 counties were registered as members of the No Labels Party. These No Labels registrants are, on average, much younger (36) than Democrats (53),  Republicans (55), or Unaffiliated (46) registrants, and about the same age as the average North Carolinian registered with the Green (33) or Libertarian (38) parties. 

About 58 percent of No Labels registrants identify as white, compared to 42 percent of Democrats who identify as white, 57 percent Green, 72 percent Libertarian, 89 percent Republican, and 67 percent Unaffiliated.

About 63 percent of the No Labels registrants are newly registered voters (which probably explains the relatively young average age described above); the remainder were previously registered and switched parties.

Of the No Labels members who were previously registered to vote, 49 had voted in at least one previous election in North Carolina, and 41 voted in the 2020 General Election. The current No Labels members who did vote in the 2020 general election were split fairly evenly across parties. The plurality (21) were registered as Unaffiliated, 10 were registered Democrats, 9 were registered Republicans and one was registered as a Libertarian at the time they cast their 2020 General Election vote. 

What To Watch as the No Labels Party Grows

So, what can we take from all of this? Probably not much. After all, we're talking about 163 people out of around 7.3 million registered voters. As a result, you can probably think of this more as North Carolina politics esoterica, than a sign of anything to come. 

Although none of what's described above provides any definitive answers, data on these early registrants might point towards a few questions worth pondering as the number of No Labels registrants increases.

1) Will No Labels Make Life Even Tougher for the Green Party in North Carolina? The Green Party in North Carolina has had a rough go of it, as of late. If some new registrants opt for No Labels instead of the Green Party, it might be even harder for the Greens to remain as a viable party in North Carolina going forward. And there is some limited evidence that's exactly what's happening. From August 21 to August 25, 75 new registrants signed up with the No Labels Party, compared to 12 who registered as Greens. Even the Libertarian Party might see some effects of this new party; across those same days days, the No Labels Party garnered 40 more registrants than the Libertarians.

2) Will new registrants be confused about the difference between Unaffiliated and No Labels? If you're reading this blog, you're deep enough in the weeds that you probably know the difference between these two very similar-sounding registration options. But put yourself in the position of a newcomer to the state, or an 18 year old registering to vote for the first time. Will they know the difference? There was a lot of confusion with the "American Independent" Party in California (h/t Neal Inman). Might we see something similar here?

3) Will No Labels registrants be more likely to change parties? If some North Carolinians do accidentally register with No Labels, will an atypically large number of No Labels registrants switch to Unaffiliated when they learn that their choice of party registration kept them out of voting in the Democratic or Republican Primary?

4) What will the geographic distribution of No Labels registrants look like? Unless we change our electoral system in pretty dramatic ways, there's very little chance that No Labels will make much of a difference in terms of statewide elections in North Carolina. But could they could matter in local races if there are concentrated pockets of 'No Labels' registrants? As the party matures, NC politics watchers should continue to monitor not just the number of No Labels registrants statewide, but also whether there are particularly intense pockets of registration in certain geographic locations.

5) Will the No Labels Party Act like a Party? Political Scientists have spent a lot of time defining what constitutes a political party and why parties exist and persist. The state of North Carolina, along with nine other states, says that No Labels is a political party, based on the rules of the state. But will they take on the other traditional roles of a political party in the future? Only time will tell.


Dr. Christopher Cooper is the Madison Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs at Western Carolina University, where he serves as director of WCU's Public Policy Institute. He posts on Twitter/X, Blue Sky, and Threads (& probably whatever the next one is) at chriscooperwcu.