The potential impact of unaffiliated voters on the upcoming election was the focus of the Thursday, Aug. 23 discussion of  latest statewide poll by Civitas.

“Unaffiliated voters are the fastest growing and second largest block of voters in the state,” Donald Bryson, CEO and president of Civitas Institute, a conservative public policy organization. “There are more unaffiliated voters than Republican voters, and they’re quickly gaining on Democratic registration.”

Unaffiliated voters amount to around 31 percent of voters in the state. The August 2018 Civitas Poll, conducted by Harper Polling, surveyed 500 likely unaffiliated voters between Aug. 8 to Aug. 21. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percent.

The poll asked unaffiliated likely voters a wide variety of questions, ranging from who they will vote for in the future and thoughts on the proposed constitutional amendments.

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party, and Matt Hughes, second vice chair of the N.C. Democratic Party, shared their thoughts on the poll during a luncheon at the DoubleTree by Hilton.

Woodhouse said it’s a mistake to assume unaffiliated voters are moderates.

“We should not consider unaffiliated voters as moderates,” Woodhouse said. “We don’t consider them moderates for the most part, nor are they largely swing voters. Most unaffiliated voters are widely connected to one or the other political parties leanings.”

Woodhouse said civic participation is down and people are less likely to want to be labeled as a member of any party.

“They choose not to be affiliated with one of the parties, but this doesn’t make them any less partisan,” Woodhouse said.

Hughes agreed, adding that research shows unaffiliated voters react more positively or negatively to policy propositions depending on who proposed them.

“They are very hardcore in their political beliefs,” Hughes said.

With this poll, unaffiliated likely voters appear to lean more favorably toward the Democratic candidates in the generic ballots for state legislative, judicial, and congressional seats.

For the generic state legislative ballot, 34 percent of unaffiliated likely voters favored a Democratic candidate; 27 percent said they would vote for a Republican candidate. Nine percent said they would vote for a third-party candidate, and 29 percent were undecided.

“There are enough people here in the undecided column that it could break,” Bryson said.

Hughes said while the undecided vote is high, people usually don’t pay close attention to these elections this early.

“That 29 percent is going to come down, as folks get closer and closer to the election they’ll make a choice, typically between the two parties,” Hughes said. “In a close election that could swing it.”

The generic judicial ballot told a similar story. Thirty percent said they would vote for a Democratic candidate, while 26 percent favored a Republican candidate. Ten percent said they would vote for someone else, and 34 percent percent were undecided.

The generic congressional ballot showed the smallest Democratic advantage. Thirty-five percent of unaffiliated likely voters would vote for a Democratic candidate, compared to 32 percent who would choose a Republican. Again, 9 percent would choose a third party candidate, and 25 percent were undecided.

Woodhouse said the numbers improve for Republican candidates on a named ballot.

“We’ve seen this in our polls, that the generics versus our named candidates — and some of those are because of incumbency — tend to improve some,” Woodhouse said. “When we name the candidates we tend to go up some.”

Poll participants were asked for their opinions of three of the proposed constitutional amendments. A majority of unaffiliated likely voters favored all three amendments.

Overall support for the voter ID amendment was 63 percent, while overall opposition amounted to 31 percent. For the right to hunt and fish amendment, 65 percent supported it, and 24 percent opposed it. The income tax cap amendment received 60 percent of overall support and 27 percent of overall opposition.

The poll asked respondents whether they were more or less likely to support a candidate based on their support of the three proposed constitutional amendments included in the poll. For each proposed constitutional amendment, a little more than 50 percent said they were more likely to support a candidate if they were in favor of one of the amendments.

“Personally, I don’t think people operate in a vacuum when they’re making political decisions” Hughes said. “I’m taking things into account … I’m taking everything that candidate stands for, not that one thing.”

Hughes said not many people are single-issue voters. Just because they support an amendment, but a candidate doesn’t, doesn’t mean that person won’t vote for the candidate.

“I think this informs people who try to go after unaffiliated voters, but I don’t think necessarily this dooms a candidate if they support it or don’t support it. But that’s with any issue in the state,” Hughes said.

Woodhouse said the amendments may not cause a huge turnout of voters, but they are popular nonetheless. This could pose a problem for Democratic candidates who oppose the amendments.