Unaffiliated voters – not party loyalty – poised to drive elections
January 04, 2013Anyone who has seriously studied the election returns from the November 6, 2012 elections, both at the national level and at the state level knows, there has been a major shift in the political landscape. It used to be that the battle was between the Democrats and Republicans for who could register the most voters. But what the latest results show is that while each party still holds a strong percentage of base voters, they do not determine who ends up getting elected. It is the unaffiliated voters that make the difference between victory and defeat. More specifically it is a combination of which party gets their base out to vote and also attracts the larger share of the unaffiliated voters.
And the unaffiliated voters have no party loyalty and that factor is growing. This can be seen in the crossover voting, in which many voters split their votes between some Democrats and some Republicans. The demographics are resulting in the more effective campaigns targeting specific blocks of voters rather than trying to reach every potential voter. There is even an early indication that the more sophisticated campaigns, such as Barack Obama's, have used technology and grassroots organizing to target specific individuals to be sure voters who were inclined to favor their candidate actually ended up voting.
One of the best analyses we have seen was published Friday (1-3-13) in the Wilmington Star News, written by Julian March and Ashley Withers. The write:
As America's demographics change, presidential campaigns have increasingly sought to appeal to diverse voting blocs to help capture states into their column. Click here to read the rest of the story.
Leading up to November's election, pundits and political observers declared that independents, women and minorities would have a formidable influence on the outcome of the race. With that in mind, political parties and political action committees spent millions of dollars on the cause.
Locally, campaigns didn't seem to target those groups, which could explain why the largest increase in voter registrations came from residents who did not pick a party. Though numbers for Brunswick and Pender counties are not available, in New Hanover County, the number of unaffiliated registered voters jumped by about 10,000 people, or 25.9 percent, from 2008 to 2012. In the same period, the Democratic and Republican parties grew by less 3 percent each..
"Back 50 or 100 years ago, political parties were a lot stronger in terms of organization and what they offered to voters," said Aaron King, a political science lecturer at UNCW. "You voted for the party, they told you which candidate to vote for. All of your political information came from them.
"Now, people still vote for candidates and people still vote for parties, but parties aren't the only way to participate in politics anymore."
In North Carolina, unaffiliated voters have the freedom to vote in either party's primary, a major contributing factor in their rise, King said.
The numbers in New Hanover indicate that Democrats would have had the most to gain by capturing those unaffiliated voters. There are more registered Democrats than Republicans in the county, but very few Democrats actually won elected seats. Had they wooed more unaffiliated registered voters, Democrats may have drastically shifted the outcome.
However, King said most unaffiliated voters actually already lean one way or the other already, so their votes aren't necessarily up for grabs.
"You certainly can be a partisan without registering as one," he said. "A lot of times people don't like to label themselves as something. Campaigns today are much more candidate centered. You can even see in a lot of ads parties aren't even mentioned."
State Rep.-elect Rick Catlin certainly fell in that category. Though a Republican, Catlin said his main objective in the 2012 campaign was to get his name out and reach every potential voter.
"My particular district leans Republican. My goal was to reach out to everybody. It was a presidential election year, so unaffiliated voters were more likely to vote," Catlin said.
"Most of my campaign ads were targeted to all of my constituents. I said what I think and what I believe. If you start trying to tailor your message to different groups you end up not being consistent."
But not all candidates felt the same way as Catlin.