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Politics
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.

Millennials Forcing Politicians To Change Their Approach

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Wednesday’s Charlotte Talks will speak with Kristen Soltis Anderson, author of “The Selfie Vote: Where Millennials Are Leading America,” along with a researcher from the Pew Research Center on the role of the newest generation that is now shaping society, and the American electorate.

In her book, Anderson argues that those born after 1980 are forcing politicians to re-imagine their approach to both campaigning and governing through the use of data on a variety of activities and habits, especially those digital in nature.

This new generation is driving the rise of the “nones,” such as in party affiliation and religious identification.

In North Carolina, I’ve been tracking the registration of millennial voters, and have found some common attributes in their registration data. For example, since the beginning of the 21st Century, millennials have seen their numbers increase to where they are now tied with members of Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1980) at twenty-seven percent of the registered voter pool.

Back in 2000, members of the Baby Boom generation (those born between 1945 and 1965) were 45 percent of the voter registration pool; now, they are one-third. If the pattern over the past 15 years holds, the typical increase (of between 6 to 8 percent) between presidential election years for registered millennials will tie them with Baby Boomers in the voter pool.

The greatest number of unaffiliated voters are within the youngest generational cohort, while the oldest cohort—the Silent generation, born before 1945—has the smallest number of unaffiliated registration.

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One note regarding the above chart: while it may seem that from the Silent and Baby Boom generations that Democrats make up considerable numbers, it is important to remember that these voters, especially those native to the state, are most likely registered Democratic, but are Republican in casting ballots.  

It’s my suspicion, based on previous research on Southern politics, that these voters registered Democratic simply because it was the expected nature being in the Solid Democratic South, but that as the South realigned its political behavior to becoming the base of the Republican Party, these voters simply didn’t change their registration, but voted the opposite party (most likely part of the Jessecrat phenomenon that this state experienced from the early 1970s to the early 2000s).

For Generation X and the Millennials, their registration was probably more accurate of their willingness to break with Southern political tradition, with Gen Xers having grown up in the Reagan era and Millennials coming of age in the hyper-partisan and polarized environment of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. 

With the decline in favorability for both political parties, especially among so-called “independents,” it’d no surprise that younger voters aren’t aligning themselves publicly with either Republicans or Democrats.

One other important finding about millennials: they are the most racially diverse generation in American history. The recent voter registration roll in North Carolina backs this up.

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In her book, Anderson notes that the “denser the area, the bluer it is on the map.” This is true if you classify the 100 counties of North Carolina into urban, suburban, and rural, and even inside some of these counties, the trends have been moving into deeper colors.

In looking at Mecklenburg County, for example, I found that analyzing the different precincts’ voting patterns showed that within the vast majority of Charlotte’s city limits, the blue precincts were becoming more and more blue. The exception has been the historic Republican ‘wedge’ of south Charlotte, but even those precincts, plus those along the city limits, are transitioning into competitive and slightly more Democratic.

In looking at where registered Millennial voters reside, they are much more likely to live in urban areas, and as Anderson notes, urban, densely populated areas trend more Democratic in nature.

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As the nation continues to undergo a dramatic transformation, the politics of the nation, and of North Carolina, will be reshaped by the dynamics of the generation coming of age.