Democrats have seen a sharp drop in voter registration in North Carolina's seven westernmost counties over the past four years. Republicans have seen a similar increase during the same timeframe, as well as those registering as unaffiliated in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, and Swain Counties.
Smoky Mountain News staff writer and BPR contributor Cory Vaillancourt examined voter registration numbers since 2016, and found Democrats lost five percent of their registered voters statewide, while Republicans gained roughly the same amount. Unaffiliated voters saw the greatest growth during that time. Those who register as unaffiliated can vote in the primary election of their choice. A full third of registered voters (33%) statewide are registered as unaffiliated, compared to 37% Democrats and 30% Republicans. But it's in the seven westernmost counties where the registration switch has been greatest - there are 18.5% fewer registered Democrats, with 13% more unaffiliated voters and 10% more registered Republicans. Vaillancourt sat down with BPR's Matt Bush to discuss the numbers and how they might impact the 2020 election. You can hear the full interview above.
EXCERPTS OF INTERVIEW
What was most striking about the voter registration numbers in the seven westernmost counties? - "You're looking at double digit Democratic losses in all of them and double digit Republican growth in all of them. In probably the most extreme case of all of them in Cherokee County, at the very tip of the state, has lost 35% of its registered Democrats in the last four years. Clay County wasn't far behind at 27%, Graham lost 28%. Even Haywood County, the largest county of the seven, lost 17% of its registered Democrats. We've also seen Republican (overall) growth of 14% (in these counties), so we're talking about a 30% registration swing."
How might this affect the 2020 election? - "Starting with the presidential election, this might make it easier for President Donald Trump to keep North Carolina red. Also in the 11th Congressional District (which encompasses all of Western North Carolina), as GOP incumbent Mark Meadows has announced he will not seek re-election, there's a new district map and it shows a 5 to 8% edge for Republicans. Factoring in these new voter registration totals, that Republican edge could continue to build."
Does a change in voter registration necessarily mean a change in how a person might vote, as unaffiliated voters are growing at an ever faster clip locally and statewide? - "It is my opinion that if you take the extraordinary step to leave your party, a Democrat becoming unaffiliated, then Democrats are going to get fewer votes out of those folks. If 100 Democrats leave the party to become unaffiliated, then maybe 70 or 80 still vote Democrat frequently. But with registered Democrats, that number is probably closer to 90 or 95."