RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Nearly 5,000 registered voters across North Carolina changed their political party affiliation over the past week, according to state Board of Elections data obtained by CBS 17 News.
According to the data, which breaks down how many of the state’s registered voters changed parties from Jan. 6 through Monday, more than three times as many Republicans as Democrats changed their party registrations during that span.
More than 60 percent of those switching — 2,879 in all — went away from the GOP, while 18 percent — a total of 864 — left the Democratic Party.
In Wake County alone, 586 voters switched from the GOP while 90 left the Democratic Party.
The 4,731 people who changed their party affiliation represents a tiny fraction of the more than 7 million registered voters across the state, and it’s too early to draw any definitive conclusions from that small sample size.
“This is not an election changer. This is not necessarily a game-changer for one week,” Western Carolina political science professor Chris Cooper said. “We’re talking about a few thousand people in an electorate of 7 million people. On the other hand, the fact that it’s such a big shift of patterns is what tells us this is something to pay attention to.”
Cooper said the data bucks some recent trends. The switching of parties typically leads to slight gains for the Republicans’ numbers.
“This is a national trend, so we haven’t just seen this in North Carolina,” Cooper said. “We’ve seen reports from other states of very similar things happening.
“I think time will tell whether we see it week after week after week,” he added. “We’re going to have to keep an eye on this. But if I’m the Republican Party, this is a little bit like, ‘Your temperature’s up, you need to pay attention to this and see if it gets worse.’ And if it does, I think it’s going to be a real warning sign for the party.”
North Carolina Republican Party spokesman Tim Wigginton declined to comment, citing those relatively small numbers.
It was effectively a wash among those switching between the two major parties: 296 Democrats became Republicans, while 262 members of the GOP shifted to the Democratic Party.
The majority of those changing parties wound up being unaffiliated, including nearly 2,500 who left the GOP.
But 915 formerly unaffiliated voters also chose a party during that period — switching to the Republican and Democratic parties in roughly equal numbers — with the end result a net gain of 2,114 among the unaffiliated.
The nearly 2.4 million unaffiliated voters in the state already make up the second-largest category, and Cooper says they could overtake the 2.5 million registered Democrats in the next two years. There are 2.2 million registered Republicans.
“In a hyper-polarized America where you can look up somebody’s party registration with a couple of clicks of the mouse, it may be that people want to kind of keep themselves out and not lock themselves out of social situations, perhaps job situations or even romantic situations,” Cooper said. “And also in North Carolina, we have a system the parties have created where as an unaffiliated voter, you get to choose your own adventure in the primary.”
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