A recent article in the Charlotte Observer had the headline asking, “Voting fight: Is it race or politics?”
For intensely partisan observers, the redistricting fight is either racial or political. But, in looking deeper into the numbers nowadays, the answer is that the voting fight is much more race and politics.
Going into the future, however, it could be ‘or’ rather than ‘and’ when it comes to racial politics in North Carolina.
In some ways, racial politics reflects much of what we see in our political environment today, with racial groups polarized into opposing parties.
According to the 2012 American National Election Study, white non-Hispanic voters nationwide cast 57% of their vote for Romney to 43% for Obama, while black non-Hispanic voters went 97% for Obama to 3% for Romney. This mirrors the national exit poll results as well.
This Democratic allegiance by black voters harkens back to the 1960s and the transition of the once Southern-dominated Democratic Party into a party aligned with the modern civil rights movement.
In the South, where whites realigned their party affiliation to the GOP from the 1960s to today, black Southerners held firm in their Democratic allegiance; in 2012, while Southern whites were voting 3-1 for Romney, black Southerners cast 96% of their votes for the Democratic incumbent.
North Carolina’s 2012 general election saw comparable levels of both white and black voting allegiance as to the national level. But what is interesting is a possible transition in black political allegiance, starting with a generational shift in party registration.
In the 2012 electorate in the Tar Heel state, 85% of the ballots cast by black voters were from registered Democrats, with 13% from registered unaffiliates and 2% from registered Republicans. In 2008, 89% of ballots cast by black voters were from registered Democrats, while 10% came from unaffiliates.
Among white voters, in comparison, a plurality (41%) came from registered Republicans, while registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters made up 30% and 29%, respectively.
But digging deeper into the state’s black electorate in 2012, one finds an interesting generational shift.
The Democratic dominance in party registration is strongest among the oldest registered black voters, but for those voters who were born after the modern civil rights era, especially those who were the youngest of voters in 2012 (born between 1987 and 1994), the rise of “unaffiliated” in their registration preference seems worthy of watching into the future.
For comparison, 14% of black 18-25 voters in 2008’s general election were registered unaffiliated, while 83% were registered Democrats.
Still, with three-quarters of 2012’s young black voters registered with the Democratic Party and the voting allegiance all black voters is overwhelmingly Democratic, the power of racial politics is relevant to the state’s overall political dynamics.
When it comes to racial politics in the Tar Heel state, it is difficult to divorce the affiliation between black votes and Democratic voters; rather than race ‘or’ politics in our general discussion of North Carolina, we may want to consider it still as race ‘and’ politics.