Now that the players are set following last week's runoff primary, we can move on to the next stage of the campaign. And in order to understand the ensuing competition, we need to first survey the lay of the electoral land.
To put the following into comparison, from January to November of 2008, the statewide registered voter pool increased 12 percent, with Democrats seeing a 14 percent increase (over 355,000 new registered Democrats), the GOP having a 4 percent increase (82,841 new registered Republicans), and unaffiliated voters enjoying the largest percentage increase, 19 percent (218,612 new unaffiliated voters on the rolls).
In looking at the registration figures from November 2008 to July 2012, the North Carolina electorate has been fairly stable, increasing 0.31 percent. But within that relatively stable environment are some significant shifts in a variety of important groups.
For example, the number of registered Democrats has decreased by over 137,000 voters, or nearly a 5 percent drop from the high point of the Obama grassroots organization in 2008.
And it’s not just Democrats that have suffered a drop. Registered Republicans have dropped nearly 30,000, or a 1.5 percent decrease since the last presidential election.
As if we needed any more evidence of the electorate moving to an independent stance in political identification, one can look at the increase of 177,000 “unaffiliated” voters, up 12.7 percent from four years ago.
Only four of North Carolina's 100 counties — Clay, Union, Hoke, and Franklin —have seen an increase in their voter rolls of over 5 percent.
In eight counties, however, the voter rolls have dropped by over 5 percent, with Warren County seeing a 9.53 percent decrease.
In 2008, we had a statewide electorate that also changed in terms of racial composition. While whites increased by 8 percent (or nearly 326,000 voters) from January to November in the last presidential election year, black voters increased 20 percent (adding 227,000 voters).
But the biggest demographic percentage shift four years ago was among Hispanics, who saw a 62 percent increase (26,156 voters) in 2008.
From that election to July 2012, white voters have seen a slight decrease in their registration figures (0.8 percent or a loss of nearly 38,500 voters), while black voters have seen an increase of 1.3 percent (or 17,000 voters) and Hispanic voters have seen another double-digit percentage increase of 34.5 percent, adding nearly 23,500 voters to the state-wide rolls.
One other key aspect in looking at the state’s electoral landscape is that 14 counties have half of the registered voters and, not surprising, the majority of them are in urban and suburban counties.
Eight of these counties have seen increased voter registration rolls, with Union County seeing a 7.6 percent jump; the other six saw decreases in their registered voters, with Guilford and Cumberland counties both seeing a 5 percent decrease.
As all of the campaigns are turning their attention to the fall, they are probably reading the polls and seeing a fairly evenly divided electorate with very few undecideds as we enter August and the conventions. It appears that the Tar Heel electorate has maxed itself out. Now comes the importance of grassroots organization by the various campaigns and mobilizing their potential supporters.
Let the games officially begin.