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The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

Yellow-Dog Democrats Still Influential, But Waning

In my last two postings, “Pebbles” posed some interesting questions about the May primary election that I thought would make for some good feedback and responses:

Pebbles: “I’d be interested to know if the counties that voted against the amendment have more registered Democrats, Republicans, or Independents.”

Great question. What we know from the various opinion polls taken right before the election is that:
1. Self-identified Democrats moved against the amendment.
2. Self-identified Independents were evenly split on the amendment.
3. Self-identified Republicans were very much in favor of the amendment.

So, in looking at the top 10 counties that voted for and against the amendment, we see some interested trends.

The top 10 counties that voted for the amendment (ranging from Graham County that went 89% for the amendment down to Sampson County at 82%) have a fairly wide range of party registration figures.

Most notable in this group was Mitchell County, with 64% registered Republicans, while Bladen and Columbus counties had 68 and 65% registered Democrats. The largest “unaffiliated” registered voter was McDowell County, with only 28% registered unaffiliated.

The average party registration percentage for these 10 counties is: 42% Democratic, 37% Republican and 21% unaffiliated.

In terms of the counties voting against the amendment, they ranged from 79% against from Orange County to a 50-50 split in New Hanover County. The largest registered voter percentage was with Durham County having 60% registered Democrats, while Watauga had 35% registered Republicans.

The average party registration percentage for these 10 counties is: 44% Democratic, 27% Republican, and 29% unaffiliated. So, the percent of Republicans is 10 percent less in the top 10 “against” counties, compared to the top ten “for” counties. The percent of unaffiliated voters is 8 percent higher.

Beyond the partisan composition, I would note this one other aspect: the location of all these counties were in distinctly rural areas of the state, whereas the top counties voting against the amendment share two notable characteristics: urban and (many) have institutions of higher education in them.

Pebbles: “What is a Democratic-unaffiliated voter, an Independent [who] takes a Democratic primary ballot?”

Yes, you are correct. In North Carolina, we have a “semi-closed” primary election system, in which only registered Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary and only registered Republicans can vote in the Republican primary.

Registered unaffiliated voters, however, can choose one or the other (or, in this past election, can choose an unaffiliated primary ballot that had non-partisan races and the constitutional amendment on it)—thus the “semi” of our “semi-closed” primary system.

North Carolina is one of 15 states that have such a primary system; our sister state to the south is considered an “open” primary system, where voters do not “register” with one of the political parties and anyone can choose any ballot in a primary election to vote in.

Pebbles: “I am a Democrat and noticed while canvassing in NC that there are a lot of registered Democrats [who] really are Republicans. I wonder if they just skip the primaries altogether? … When I’d ask why they don’t change their registration, most told me it was tradition.”

Welcome to the last remnants of the old “Solid Democratic South.” For nearly 100 years following the end of the Civil War, the party that dominated the South was the Democratic Party and the GOP was despised. As I note in my Southern politics class, if you wanted to hold any political office in the South (with the notable exception of east Tennessee), you had to be a Democrat.

Thus the expression “yellow-dog Democrat,” as in “I’d rather vote for a yellow-dog than a Republican” for generations.

That legacy of the old-Solid South mentality is still very much with North Carolina, particularly among those old-time voters who could be called “Jessecrats.” When the late Senator Jesse Helms was on the ballot, whole counties (especially in the eastern part of the state) that were traditionally Democratic would “flip” and vote for him.

That legacy is still evident in older voters, but the state is going through a generational change, especially with the notable in-migration of non-native North Carolinians. That old tradition of being a Democrat is still evident, but for the most part, these older voters tend to be much more Republican.

It’s just that their grandfathers would roll over in their graves if they knew their descendants were a “Republican.”

Pebbles: “I really love this blog!”

Thanks! I really enjoy writing it, and would encourage any other readers to submit comments (please keep them civil…there are plenty of other forums out there for non-civil discussions) and I’ll try to address them as the campaigns and general election really starts to heat up.

3 Responses to “Yellow-dog Democrats still influential, but waning”

  1. Pebbles says:
    May 24, 2012 at 8:19 am
    Thanks for answering my questions. What about blue dogs? I’d really like a primary where I can vote for both Republicans and Democrats. I am a Democrat, but living in the 9th district I really wanted to vote for a moderate Republican. Oh, well. I agree with Mark regarding the state of the NC Democratic Party. I don ‘t see Obama winning NC again.


  2. Mark Isenberg says:
    May 23, 2012 at 7:26 pm
    There is unfortunately a lot of rot in North Carolina Democratic politics. The Mecklenburg County Party has had financial problems for a while and has selected candidates in some races of doubtful personal ethics.This is small potatos except the Observer ignores it.At Raleigh headquarters,the News and Observer gets to pant after David Parker who refuses to resign as Chairman after the sexual harassment mini-scandal that caused Jay Parmley’s resignation and Parker’s arranged resignation and then renomination at the recent Convention. While this may have little bearing on the Presidential contest or the September Charlotte convention,it is not the reassuring scenario most would want going into the summer.There remain unanswered questions and one of the biggest is what has happened to the political reporters at the shrinking Observer?


  3. C.B. says:
    May 23, 2012 at 7:03 pm
    After moving to Charlotte from Alabama more than 10 years ago I am a rare breed of a Yellow Dog Democrat born and raised in Alabama that couldn’t stand Jesse Helms and had so many unhappy disagreements with my dad over politics while in college- the era of Bill Clinton- that we don’t even broach the topic of politics anymore. We may be a dying breed, but there are still some youngins of us out here. I know how to listen to a polite and respectful Republican share their views, but I still ain’t voting for one. It is sad, however, to evaluate how things have changed, the buttons that are pushed to keep things as they are now and to listen to the dysfunctional discourse in our politics today.



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