Thursday, January 28, 2021

A Brief Look Back at the Green and Constitution Parties in North Carolina

By Chris Cooper

This week's memo from the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE) lays it out pretty clearly: “the Constitution and Green Party are no longer recognized political parties in North Carolina.”  As of January 27, 2021, neither party is listed listed on the voter registration application (h/t Gerry Cohen, the oracle of NC election law, for linking this on his Twitter account). Unless they can successfully re-qualify for ballot access before the February 22, 2021 meeting of the NCSBE (h/t to everybody's favorite Libertarian candidate, Sean Haugh for spelling this out clearly), members of both parties will have their party affiliation switched automatically to Unaffiliated. 

The elimination of both parties wasn't done out of spite, but rather because neither party achieved "the required 2% of the total vote for their candidate for governor or for presidential electors in the 20202 general election” (see this piece from Danielle Battaglia for a good run-down on what happened).

Given the impending demise of both parties, it seems like as good a time as any to take a look at life and times of the Green and Constitution parties to see if it can teach us anything about the future of party registration in the Old North State.

A Brief History

The recognition of the Constitution and Green Parties was made possible by the "Electoral Freedom Act of 2017" (Senate Bill 656/SL 2017-2014), a law that, among other things, reduced the bar to become a recognized political party in NC. Like most consequential bills in the NC General Assembly, it was not a bipartisan bill, but rather one marked by partisan conflict. The initial vote was mostly along party lines (with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition); Governor Cooper vetoed it, then his veto was overriden on a near party-line vote.

Once the Electoral Freedom Act made it into law, the writing was on the wall that the Green Party would soon be recognized as an official political party in North Carolina (see the clip from the N&O's Colin Campbell on March 27, 2018).


While the Green Party was indeed the first party to be recognized, the Constitution Party was recognized shortly thereafter.  See this clip from APs Emery Dalesio and Gary Robertson from May 17, 2018.


Registration didn't exactly start with a bang: on May 26, 2018, the first week where anyone in North Carolina registered with the Green Party, only 66 North Carolinians could rightfully claim that they were Green Party registrants. The first week of Constitution Party registration was even quieter with just 29 people registered by June 16. By the end of 2018, there were 1,016 registered Green Party members and 875 registered with the Constitution Party. 

One year later, the number of Green Party members had almost doubled to 1,931 while the number of Constitution Party members had tripled to 2,751. By the end of 2020, Green Party members had increased to 3,833 and Constitution Party membership had increased to just shy of 5,000 (4,928). While tiny in comparison to the North Carolina electorate, it is worth noting that both parties were increasing fairly rapidly--just from a tiny base.

A Brief Demographic Description of Green and Constitution Party Members 

In general, third party members are (much) younger than members of the two major parties in North Carolina. Moving from youngest to oldest, the average age of a Green Party member in North Carolina is 35, followed by 37 for Libertarians, 39 for Constitution Party, 45 for Unaffiliated registrants, 52 for Democrats and 53 for Republicans. The figure below, which shows the age distributions for each Party's registrants reinforces the same point, but with more detail.

In terms of gender, a few interesting patterns emerge. First, while the Democratic Party is majority female (56%F/38%M), and the Republican Party,  Unaffiliated registrants, and Green Party are split fairly evenly, (47F/47M,  45F/44M, and 37F/37M respectively), the Constitution Party is overwhelmingly male (24F/53M), more so even than the Libertarian Party (35F/49M). 

The second story is the extraordinary number of Uncategorized genders in the Constitution and Green Parties. Approximately a quarter of both groups did not identify as male or female when they registered to vote--a far greater number than any other party group (the next highest is Libertarian with 15%). As Michael Bitzer and I highlighted, there are many more North Carolinians checking "none of the above" when they register than ever before--and this is particularly true when it comes to Constitution and Green Party Members. 

Constitution and Green Party members were also much less likely to specify a race than members of any other party--48% of Constitution and 47% of Green Party members are did not specify race when registering. About 14% of Constitution and 15% of Green Party members indicated that they were black--much lower than the 45% of Democrats who indicated they were black, but higher than the 11% of Unaffiliated voters, 8% of Libertarian and 2% of Republicans who listed their race as Black.

Green and Constitution Party members are also unlikely to be born in North Carolina--only 25% of Green and 30% of Constitution Party members were born in North Carolina. While this is in-line with data on Libertarians (27% of Libertarians are native to the state), it is fewer than any other registration group (32% of Unaffiliated, 46% of Republicans and 43% of Democrats were born in North Carolina).

Putting it in Perspective

The life and times (even if they come back to life later) of these two small political parties in North Carolina is certainly worth pausing to consider, but it's important to remember that there's a reason they're being eliminated--they didn't have a lot of members. Only about .12% of the registered voters in North Carolina are members of the Green or Constitution Parties. I do not say that with malice, but rather hoping that it will throw a bit of cold water on the notion that the Republican Party will split into a new party and find electoral success.

For a variety of reasons that are too lengthy to get into in a brief blog post, third parties just don't have much hope of winning elections or drawing a large number of members in North Carolina unless we rethink our electoral institutions. The short life and death (or at least temporary rest) of the Green Party and the Constitution Party in North Carolina reinforces that reality. 

The demographic profile presented here also shows that the Green Party and Constitution Party members folding into the Unaffiliated category will strengthen the demographic division between the two major Parties and the group of Unaffiliated voters in North Carolina. After the absorption of the Green and Constitution Parties, Unaffiliated voters will be even younger, more likely to choose "none of the above" and less likely to be from North Carolina. Even those shifts, however, will be tiny. After Green and Constitution Party members switch to the Unaffiliated category, these recent switchers will make up less than one half of one percent of Unaffiliated registrants in North Carolina. 

Altogether, the elimination of two political parties is an important change for North Carolina, although not one that will dramatically change the shape of the state's politics going forward.

Chris Cooper is the Madison Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs at Western Carolina University. He tweets at @chriscooperwcu.