Dems have registration edge in N.C., but GOP has control

By Brent Laurenz | Jan 27, 2014

RALEIGH - This year, all 170 seats in the N.C. General Assembly and all 13 congressional seats in North Carolina are up for election, along with county commissioner, district attorney, sheriff and judicial races around the state, not to mention the marquee campaign for U.S. Senate.

Of course, before voters head to the polls they must be registered to vote, and here in North Carolina you must either register with a political party or as unaffiliated. In advance of this year's voting, here's a look at voter registration statistics in North Carolina.

If you were to plot voter registration by party on a map of North Carolina, it would reveal a geographic divide in the state, with Democrats having a hold on eastern North Carolina and Republicans stronger in the west, with some exceptions peppered throughout.

Statewide, Democrats have a clear edge in voter registration at 43 percent, compared to the 31 percent held by Republicans, followed by unaffiliated voters at 26 percent and Libertarians at a scant .3 percent.

That Democratic advantage is even stronger at the county level, with Democrats leading registration figures in 65 counties and Republicans in 33, with two counties -- Currituck and Watauga -- being the odd ducks where a plurality of voters are unaffiliated. Watauga also has the strongest per capita share of Libertarians at nearly 1 percent of that county's voters.

Northampton in the northeastern part of the state is the most strongly Democratic county, with a net 68 percent advantage for that party. Republicans have a net 52 percent edge in Mitchell County along the western border, their strongest county in the state.

In the 65 counties where Democrats have a majority or plurality of registered voters, the party averages a 29 percent net advantage over Republicans. Meanwhile, Republicans average a 14 percent net advantage over Democrats in the 33 counties where the GOP has a majority or plurality of voters. Meaning, "Democratic counties" tend to lean more intensely Democratic than "Republican counties" tend to lean Republican.

But while Democrats hold 43 percent of North Carolina's voter registration totals and lead registration in 65 percent of counties, the party controls just 35 percent of legislative seats and 31 percent of the state's congressional delegation.

That disconnect could be a sign of the effective way in which the Republican legislative majority has drawn voting districts to favor its own party. The GOP's success could also be helped by Republican-leaning independents and conservative Democrats who break party ranks in the voting booth.

What's more, Republicans currently hold a 53-45 edge when it comes to control of the 100 county boards of commissioners around the state, with two counties having no partisan majority, according to the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, far outperforming their share of counties where they lead in registration.

Finally, independents continue to grow in numbers throughout North Carolina. There are 41 counties where unaffiliated voters make up the second highest share of registration. Among those counties, 31 have more independent voters than Republican voters -- including the state's two most populous counties, Wake and Mecklenburg -- and 10 have more independents than Democrats.

What does this all mean for elections in North Carolina? Democrats have a significant advantage in voter registration, but that doesn't necessarily predict actual voting patterns. And while Republicans dominate the General Assembly and congressional delegation, due in part to redistricting, that doesn't necessarily reflect the state's partisan leanings.

All in all, North Carolina remains a very competitive state, especially at the statewide level, and with the rapidly changing demographics it is likely to remain that way in years to come.

(Brent Laurenz is executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education and a contributor to TheVoterUpdate.com. He can be contacted at laurenz@ncvotered.com.)

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