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Breaking Down November's Voting Pool

With any general election, there are two aspects that most political analysts will start to evaluate: the composition of the possible electorate (‘who shows up’) and the behavior of that possible electorate (‘how do different groups vote?’).

Granted, North Carolina’s potential electorate can expand between now and November, but an early breakdown of the voter registration pool can give some hint of who is eligible to cast their ballots in the fall.

As of June 11, 6.5 million registered voters are considered ‘eligible’ by being classified as either ‘active’ or ‘inactive’ (for inactive voters, of which approximately 1.1 million are classified, they are still eligible to vote based on confirmation of their registration and address).

Registered Democratic voters still lead the state with 40 percent of the registration, while registered Republicans are 30 percent and registered unaffiliated voters are 29 percent. Compared to 2012’s voter registration pool that had 43 percent Democrats, 31 percent Republicans, and 26 percent unaffiliated, the rise of the ‘unaffiliated’ voter is the continued significant movement in the state’s voter pool.

One of the notable divisions that the state has experienced over the past few election cycles has been the urban-rural divide. In slicing up the active & inactive voters into respective urban, suburban, and rural counties (based on classification by the federal Office of Management and Budget), one can begin to see the stark reality of how the urban-rural divide is playing itself out in the state.

Nineteen urban counties hold 54 percent of all of the state’s voters, with registered Democrats being 43 percent, unaffiliated voters at 30 percent, and registered Republicans at 27 percent. Two counties—Charlotte’s Mecklenburg and Raleigh’s Wake—constitute 20 percent of the entire state’s voter registration pool.

Among the 23 suburban counties (which comprise 20 percent of the total voter pool), registered Republicans lead at 38 percent, followed by registered Democrats at 32 percent and registered unaffiliated voters at 30 percent.

With a little over one-quarter of the voter pool, the remaining 58 rural counties saw their collective voter registration figures at 42 percent Democratic, 31 percent Republican, and 26 percent unaffiliated.

North Carolina is experiencing one other aspect to its voter registration pool: a generational transition. With the greying of the Baby Boomer generation and the rise of the Millennial generation, the differences between the two generational cohorts (with Generation X in between them) will have a significant impact on the state’s voter pool.

Currently, Baby Boomers (those between 51 and 71 years old) lead within the registration pool with 34 percent, followed by Millennials (those voters under 35) at 29 percent, Generation X (those 36 to 51 years old) at 25 percent, and the Silent Generation (those over the age of 71) at 12 percent.

Within the generation, a noticeable trend exists that will only fuel the rise of the unaffiliated voter in North Carolina.

Statewide, nearly 40 percent of registered Millennial voters are unaffiliated, with only a quarter of them registering Republican. In comparison, only 23 percent of Baby Boomers are unaffiliated. One explanation for both Boomers and those of the Silent Generation may have to do with the final legacy of the old Democratic Solid South, especially among native Boomers and the Silent Generation still attached to their familial Democratic Party registration but casting Republican ballots.

Within Mecklenburg County, Millennial voters are now the plurality of registered voters, with one-third of the county’s voters under the age of 35 and registered Democrats the largest segment (43 percent), unaffiliated at 36 percent, and Republicans only at 20 percent. County-wide, the total registration breakdown is 45 percent registered Democrats, 30 percent registered unaffiliated, and 25 percent registered Republican.

Libertarians, in all aspects, are still a significantly small minority of registered voters, accounting for barely one percent in any category.

In a future posting, the second key question—how do voters cast their ballots—will be explored. But it will be key to watch any significant transformations, especially due to a competitive ground game operation by both the Trump and/or Clinton campaign, to see if these numbers dramatically change, and ultimately, who shows up to vote come November.

Copyright 2016 WFAE

Dr. Michael Bitzer is an associate professor of politics and history at Catawba College, where he also serves as the 2011-2012 Swink Professor for Excellence in Classroom Teaching and the chair of the department of history & politics. A native South Carolinian, he holds graduate degrees in both history and political science from Clemson University and The University of Georgiaââ