The Party Line
Mon May 21, 2012
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.
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