Thursday, January 9, 2020

NC Voters Since 2016: Younger, More Diverse, Much More Unaffiliated

by Michael Bitzer

With the prior post regarding the end of the 2019 year analysis of North Carolina registered voters, I decided to look at the new voters who registered since the last presidential election in 2016 to see what kind of patterns we might see since the last presidential battle in the Old North State.

Since 2016, over 1.3 million new voters have registered in North Carolina (20 percent of the current 6.8 million active/inactive/temporary registered voters), with unaffiliated status claiming 43 percent of these new voters, Democrats claiming 30 percent of the new registrants, and Republicans taking 26 percent. All other party registrations--Libertarian, Green, and Constitution--totaled one percent.

When broken down by each of past three years, the trends for party registration held mostly the same as the overall percentages, with the exception of 2018, when Democrats had nearly a third of the registrants, while Republicans had under a quarter.

This Democratic bump is not surprising, considering that 2018 was a Democratic year leading into North Carolina's competitive blue-moon mid-term election.

As of the December 28, 2019 registered voter data file from the NC State Board of Elections, nearly 325,000 voters registered in 2017, over 536,000 in 2018, and over 481,000 registered in 2019.

Next, looking at these new registered voters since 2016 by voter race:

What is interesting is that over the past three years, the percentage of white registrants dropped below 60 percent, while black voters were slightly below their overall voter pool percentage of 22 percent and 'all other races' (Asian, Native American, Multi-racial, and other/unknown/unreported) was at 23 percent, compared to their overall 11 percent of the state's voter pool.

In looking at ethnicity, over 71,000 voters indicated that they were Hispanic/Latino over the past three years of registrations, and their registration party affiliation is 47 percent unaffiliated, 39 percent registered Democratic, and 12 percent registered Republican.

In looking at ethnicity and race combined, new non-Hispanic/Latino white voters were 44 percent unaffiliated, 36 percent registered Republicans, and 19 percent registered Democrats.

Two areas of interest to me is generational cohorts and regionalism. First, the new NC voters since 2016 have been overwhelmingly Millennials and Generation Z.

Nearly 60 percent of the new voters since 2016 are currently under the age of 40, while Boomers made up only 18 percent and Generation X were 20 percent of new voters. The youngest new voters--Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z--saw pluralities of their registration go unaffiliated, while older voters--Boomer and Greatest/Silent--saw two-thirds of their new voters pick a party.

Among the four 'regions' that I categorize voters into--those who live in central cities of urban counties, those outside the central city but inside the urban county, those in surrounding suburban counties, and those in rural counties--urban counties dominated the new registrations, with nearly one third of the new voters since 2016 in central cities.

What is interesting is that in those central cities, Republican registration is 15 percent, while in surrounding suburban counties, Democratic registration was 23 percent. Those suburban voters who live in urban counties but outside the central city registered 27 percent to each party, but 44 percent went unaffiliated.

Finally, I was interested in looking at how, within two year cycles, new registrants tended to actually show up and cast ballots in the subsequent election year to their registration. For example, how many 2017 registered voters cast ballots compared to those who registered in 2018?

In using the voter registration for each year going back to 2012's election, I constructed the following analysis for different cohorts:

  • the overall registered voter turnout rate for that election
  • the turnout rate for those voters who registered in the year prior to the election year
  • the turnout rate for those voters who registered in the election year, and 
  • the turnout rate for those voters who were registered two years before the election

Out of the past four election cycles, three of the four cycles saw voters who had registered two years before the election cast ballots at a higher rate than the other categories. The notably exception was in 2016's presidential election, when those NC voters who registered in 2016 saw over three-quarters show up at the ballot box. What's interesting is that the voters who registered in the year prior to the election year had the lowest turnout rates of the four categories.

With 2019 seeing over 480,000 North Carolinians registered, an important trend to watch in 2020 will be two-fold: when does this election year's numbers surpass last year's total numbers, and can the campaigns work the 2019 registered voters just as hard as the ones who register this year to show up to vote?