We’re capping off our exploration of the coalitions that make up North Carolina’s political parties by taking a look at the fastest-growing segment of our electorate: Unaffiliated voters.

[If you missed the earlier installments, check out our looks at 8 types of Republicans and 8 types of Democrats in North Carolina.]

If you consider them a party, unaffiliateds are now the second-largest by registration in North Carolina.

Data from the State Board of Elections.

There are a multitude of reasons for this. Here are a few of them.

The secret partisans

You could call them unaffiliated in name only.

Dr. Michael Bitzer has done some really good work unpacking the “leaners” either way who are nonetheless registered as independent or unaffiliated. For all intents and purposes, they are Democrats or Republicans. Why are they registered unaffiliated? Perhaps they fall into some of the categories below.

If you count them this way, the percentage of truly unaffiliated voters is much smaller.

Chart by Michael Bitzer at Old North State Politics.

Minority party member in a safe district

Perhaps they’re a Republican in a true-blue urban district. Or a die-hard liberal in the country. They want some say in elections that almost always get decided in the primary, so they register as unaffiliated.

In North Carolina, unaffiliated voters can choose to vote in either primary contest.

Photo by Donald Lee Pardue via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Young unaffiliateds

We’ve cited young people as a distinct category of both Democrats and Republicans in our earlier installments of this series. That’s because they tend to have different views than the party orthodoxy, still set by older generations.

This is why so many young people are registering as unaffiliated. They might consider themselves liberal or conservative, but they don’t identify with the party typically characterized as that side.

The younger you are in North Carolina, the more likely you are to be unaffiliated.

Another chart from the amazing Michael Bitzer at Old North State Politics. If you’re not following him on Twitter, you’re missing out.

“My party left me” unaffiliateds

Perhaps they’re #NeverTrumpers, or former Democrats who lean conservative. In any case, they identified as partisan before our state and national politics got crazy. They switched to unaffiliated to prove a point.

Populist unaffiliateds

The biggest split in U.S. politics might not be between Democrats and Republicans. There appears to be a clear and growing split between people you might call “establishment” voters and “populist” voters. In North Carolina, a good number of them are registering as unaffiliated.

These voters were likely fine with either Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump in the 2016 primary elections. They are wary of institutions, corporations, governments and Wall Street.

Bernie Sanders speaking at a March 2016 rally in Charlotte. Photo by Kristopher Harris via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Forced impartials

They would otherwise register with a party if they didn’t have to appear impartial. Most of the state’s journalists fall into this camp, along with some school board candidates who run in areas where these races are nonpartisan.

Obscure third-party identifiers

Maybe they’re part of the nascent Constitution Party, or Socialists. Either way, they don’t find a checkbox on the voter registration form that matches their leanings.

Green Party voters won’t be in this category any more after gaining ballot access last week.


  1. This was a great article. I really enjoyed reading it and finding out more about unaffiliated voters. I would like to know how were you able to segment unaffiliated voters in North Carolina. I am interested in understanding more about unaffiliated voters in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area.

  2. In point of fact, independent voters are the SECOND-fastest growing voter segment in NC. Since 1993, the compounded annual growth rates for each segment are:

    LPNC = 14.9%
    Independents = 8.7%
    GOP = 2.5%
    NC DEMS = 1.0%

    Overall, the voter population has grown 2.8% per year since 1993…so neither of the establishment parties have kept pace.

    And the LPNC growth rate is probably understated, in consideration of the fact that they were dropped from the ballot in 2005 after their 2004 gubernatorial candidate failed to get enough votes to qualify and had to start over from zero registered Libertarians when they were reinstated in 2009.


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