Roughly half of unaffiliated voters can truly be called “swing voters,” while the remaining portion hew closely to the two major political parties in voting patterns.
That’s the bottom line of a new report, “Growing and Distinct: The Unaffiliated Voter as Unmoored Voter,” written by Dr. Michael Bitzer of Catawba College, Dr. Chris Cooper of Western Carolina, Dr. Whitney Ross Manzo of Meredith College, and Dr. Susan Roberts of Davidson College.
The report delves into the size, demographic composition, and political opinions of unaffiliated voters. The authors relied on data from the N.C. State Board of Elections plus the results of the Meredith Poll to gauge independents’ views on the top issues.
A key metric for their analysis hinged on whether an independent voter chose to participate in the Democrat or Republican primary. By law in North Carolina, unaffiliated voters have the option of pulling either ballot.
Earlier this year, unaffiliated voters overtook Democrats as the largest voting group in North Carolina. The number of registered Democrats on the rolls has been declining for years while raising marginally for Republicans.
About half of independent voters float from one party to the other depending on prevailing winds of a given election, while the other half act like typical partisans in sticking with one party or the other. The bottom line is that “most unaffiliated voters are not swing voters but most swing voters are unaffiliated voters,” Cooper tweeted.
“We posit that, much like a boat that is left unmoored near a dock, many of these voters will stay close to their partisan homes,” the authors write. “Similar to an unmoored boat, however, an electoral disruption, or a change in the electoral tide can send the voters temporarily in search of another home. These voters, therefore, are to be contrasted with their moored partisan cousins who will not drift, no matter how heavy the electoral winds may blow.”
Of that half of independent voters who could be called “shadow partisans,” the report concluded that they were evenly divided between siding with Democrats and Republicans.
On racial demographics, unaffiliated voters as a group are less diverse than registered Democrats but more diverse than Republicans. What’s more, younger voters are flocking to the ranks of the unaffiliated, a trendline that began in 2014 and has accelerated in recent years.
On the gender divide, 54% of unaffiliated women consistently voted in Democratic primaries, while 55% of unaffiliated men pulled the Republican ballot in the primary.
As for differences in voter behavior based on geography, unaffiliated voters who live in central city locations went for the Democrat ballot three-to-one. But somewhat surprisingly, according to the authors, unaffiliated voters in urban areas picked Republicans over Democrats 51% to 49%. In suburban areas, the GOP came out with 66% and 65% in rural regions.
On their ideological viewpoints, the authors found, “A review of public opinion data reflects similar trends — unaffiliated voters in North Carolina hold distinct political beliefs that fall somewhere between the two major parties on most issues. Indeed, the only example where they do not fall within the two major parties is on the question of the two-party system itself, where unaffiliated voters are, perhaps not surprisingly, the least enthralled with the current system.”