A closer look at WNC’s unaffiliated voters (2023)

Amber Hall is what many people would recognize as a Western North Carolina conservative. She loves that the people of WNC are hardworking and still say “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir.” She thinks some novels available in schools, like The Bluest Eye and The Handmaid’s Tale, have inappropriate sexual content. And as someone who commutes to Hendersonville from Polk County every day, she is concerned about politicians not knowing the price of gas.

But that doesn’t mean Republican candidates automatically receive Hall’s vote. She has been registered as an unaffiliated voter “as long as I can remember,” she tells Xpress.

North Carolina voters can register with one of three political parties — Republican, Democratic and Libertarian — or as unaffiliated. The last has become an increasingly popular option, both in WNC and across the state.

As of May 21, Buncombe County had over 83,000 unaffiliated voters, more than the county’s roughly 75,000 Democrats, 46,000 Republicans and 1,700 Libertarians. Carolina Demography, a project of the UNC Carolina Population Center, reports that unaffiliated voters in the state ballooned by 65% from 2010-21, from about 1.45 million to 2.4 million, and surpassed registered Democrats in March.

North Carolina created the unaffiliated voter registration category in 1978, notes Western Carolina University political science professor Chris Cooper. But registering as independent, he continues, didn’t gain steam until the Republican and Democratic parties opened their primaries to unaffiliated voters in 1988 and 1996, respectively.

As a group, the state’s independent voters defy easy categorization. Although Cooper notes that young people — millennials, specifically — and newcomers to North Carolina are driving the growth of independent voter rolls, “There is not one unaffiliated voter,” he says. “The reality is, there’s a variety of motivations [to register unaffiliated].”

(Video) The power of unaffiliated voters in elections

Local unaffiliated voters who spoke with Xpress about their reasons for registering as independent shared a distrust of party-backed politicians, as well as a desire that the options on North Carolina ballots would represent a wider spectrum of political beliefs.

‘Fool me once’

“There are a true growing amount of independents who are disillusioned with the two-party system, and I think it’s awesome,” says real estate agentGrace Barron-Martinez, who says she registered as unaffiliated “as soon as I figured out it made sense to do so.” She feels particularly frustrated with Democrats for not fulfilling promises.

“I feel like Democrats say things that make it sound like they’re going to do things that I would want — but then in reality, they almost never do,” Barron-Martinez explains, citing student loan forgiveness as one policy the national Democratic Party has pledged but not prioritized.

A closer look at WNC’s unaffiliated voters (1)

Juan Holladay, an Asheville resident who works for the justice system in Buncombe County, voices a similar frustration. He is currently registered as unaffiliated, although he has registered as both a Democrat and a Republican to vote for specific candidates in previous elections. He feels that the current Democratic Party has what he calls a “fake liberal agenda” and has failed to back issues it claims to support.

“It seems like anything I’ve ever really cared about on a grassroots level, it’s always been the Democrats I have to fight first,” he says with a wry laugh. “If you get past that, you can get on with it and you can fight with Republicans.”

Holladay experienced what he alleges was excessive force by Asheville Police Department officers in 2011; that incident has led him to participate in several protests around police accountability in Asheville. He feels the Democratic Party is not addressing the issue of police brutality as seriously as he wants it to “at the local level and national level,” he explains. “My cynical point of view is that the Democratic Party’s job is to stifle progress in that direction.”

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Barron-Martinez stops short of describing herself as disappointed in the Democratic Party. Instead, she says she’s come to expect that she’ll be let down by it. That’s why registering for a political party was off the table for her. “I won’t be fooled again. Fool me once …” she says with a chuckle.

As a self-described “leftist,” Barron-Martinez notes that some Democratic politicians pay lip service to traditionally liberal priorities like the environment. However, she argues that their actual policies or behaviors contradict their claims. “I almost think it’s more dangerous at this point to have people who are saying they’re my friend and they’re not my friend,” she explains.

Hall, who has more conservative leanings, echoes similar thoughts. “I don’t feel like it’s a real two-party system — I feel like it’s a uniparty system,” she tells Xpress. “Because the Democrats and the Republicans are doing the same thing, just in different ways.”

The Polk County voter particularly worries about what she sees as a boys’ club among Republican politicians: “As a whole, I feel like the Republicans are more, ‘Let’s do it backdoor, good-old-buddy system. We’ll meet over coffee and we’ll make this decision.’ (As to her frustration with Democrats, Hall says, “The other party is more screaming in your face, shove it down your throat.”)

Hall wants to see more transparency and accountability among the politicians who earn her vote. “We elected them there,” she says. “They should answer to us, the constituents.”

Reading the labels

Several independent voters interviewed by Xpress say they vote for candidates, not parties. Holladay, for example, voted for Republican candidate Ron Paul, a former U.S. representative from Texas, in the 2008 presidential primary.

“I tend to vote for candidates who are more aligned with my values rather than parties,” explains small-business owner Nicolette Baglio of Asheville. “I don’t really say I’m a Democrat, I don’t really say I’m a liberal [and] I’m definitely not a Republican.”

(Video) NC's mixed election results, explained | Flashpoint

Baglio would like to see changes regarding approaches to Asheville’s homeless population. (The city’s 2022 point-in-time count found that unsheltered homelessness in Buncombe County had doubled since 2021.) “What I’m gathering from a larger crowd here — even Democrats — [is] people being extremely concerned about the homeless situation and how bad that’s gotten in Asheville and how it’s affected their downtown businesses,” she says.

Over the past several years, Baglio continues, “Some of the things in Asheville … have caused me and a lot of Democrats to move back towards the center on certain things.” More left-leaning politicians, whom she refers to “as having more extreme socialist views,” are prompting her to seek more middle ground in the voting booth.

Barron-Martinez says party affiliation can be misleading. For example, she does not believe David Hurley, who was acandidate for Buncombe County sheriff, or Doug Edwards, who was a candidate for Buncombe County district attorney, should have run as Democrats in their respective primaries. Their positions, she says, are more right-leaning.

“People just run as Democrats in Asheville, which shows how meaningless it is anyway,” she says. Barron-Martinez says she admires City Council member Kim Roney, a candidate for Asheville mayorin November’s general election, because she is running as an independent.

Baglio also wants voters to scrutinize candidates and show more caution before entrusting them with power. “I believe that we as voters have to do a better job and stop trying to elect shiny objects and really look at the candidate and their experience and what they can bring,” she says. “Because these positions are no joke.”

Locked out

Some unaffiliated voters tell Xpress they would prefer additional political parties in North Carolina that reflect a wider spectrum of views.

“A lot of people run as Democrats that I vote for, but generally speaking, that wouldn’t be my preference. I would much prefer to vote for a third party,” says Barron-Martinez. She expresses support for Matthew Hoh, a veteran in Wake Forestwho has attempted to collect signatures to get on the state ballot as a Green Party candidate for Senate.

(Video) Less than 10% of voters expected to cast ballots in Charlotte election

Yet new parties face substantial hurdles to be recognized in the state. According to the N.C. State Board of Elections, to be recognized as a political party, a group of voters must either have had its presidential or gubernatorial candidate receive 2% of the vote in the most recent general election; collect signatures from 0.25% of all registered voters, including at least 200 voters from three different congressional districts; or have a candidate for the most recent presidential election who was nominated for the general election in at least 35 states.

The Libertarian Party has met at least one of those thresholds since 2008. But the Constitution and Green parties, which earned recognition through the signature and presidential candidate methods, respectively, in 2018, lost their status in 2021 due to low vote counts.

Candidates who chose to run in partisan races without a party’s backing also have a challenging path to the ballot. They must gather signatures equivalent to 4% of all voters in the area they hope to represent by the day of the primary election for their office and do so by an earlier deadline than required by most other states.

“It’s just so hard to run and win as an unaffiliated,” says WCU’s Cooper. “There’s just no way to break through the noise, get on the debate stage and to tap into fundraising networks.”

But until a change occurs that enables more variety on the ballot, unaffiliated voters like Hall will scrutinize each candidate.

“The more I talk to people, the more they think like this. They’re like ‘This is crazy; this is getting out of hand,’” Hall explains. “What happened to doing what is best for us as Americans? Why does it have to be you [versus me]? Why can’t we just be Americans?”


How do NC unaffiliated voters vote? ›

Unaffiliated voters may choose the Democratic, Libertarian, Republican, or nonpartisan ballot (if available) in a primary election. The Green Party has not opened its primaries to unaffiliated voters.

How do unaffiliated voters vote? ›

Open Primary System

Proposition 198 changed the closed primary system to what is known as a "blanket" or "open" primary, in which all registered voters may vote for any candidate, regardless of political affiliation and without a declaration of political faith or allegiance.

Is NC a more democratic or republican state? ›

North Carolina has voted for the Republican candidate in nine of the last 10 presidential elections; the one exception was in 2008, when a plurality of North Carolinians voted for Barack Obama.

What are the six functions of political parties quizlet? ›

Terms in this set (6)
  • Nominating Function. parties recruit and select candidates and then present them to the voters.
  • Informer-Stimulator Function. ...
  • Seal of Approval. ...
  • Governmental Function. ...
  • Watchdog Function. ...
  • Labeling Function.

What's the difference between unaffiliated and independent? ›

An independent voter, often also called an unaffiliated voter or non-affiliated voter in the United States, is a voter who does not align themselves with a political party.

What is an unaffiliated? ›

: not closely associated with, belonging to, or subordinate to another : not affiliated. The hospital is unaffiliated with the university. unaffiliated voters.

Can an independent win an election? ›

In the 59 presidential elections since 1788, third party or independent candidates have won at least 5.0% of the vote or garnered electoral votes 12 times (21%); this does not count George Washington, who was elected as an independent in 1788–1789 and 1792, but who largely supported Federalist policies and was ...

What happens if no candidate gets a majority? ›

If no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the President from the three candidates who received the most electoral votes. Each state delegation has one vote. The Senate elects the Vice President from the two vice presidential candidates with the most electoral votes.

What is it called when you don't associate with a political party? ›

Nonpartisanism is a lack of affiliation with, and a lack of bias towards, a political party.

Is North Carolina a good state to live in? ›

Is North Carolina a good place to live? Living in North Carolina is a dream—it has a booming business climate, reasonable cost-of-living, and beautiful landscapes across the state. With a population of over 10 million, North Carolina is the ninth largest state in the U.S., and it continues to grow.

Is North Carolina a good state to retire in? ›

North Carolina is an attractive state for retirees and its low taxes allow you to stretch your savings. Undiscovered beaches let you enjoy a leisurely coastal retirement without a massive Florida or California price tag. Plus, vibrant cities give you an exciting place to spend your time.

Is South Carolina liberal or conservative? ›

Presently, South Carolina's government is formed as a representative democracy. Like most southern states, South Carolina is a largely conservative, Republican state.

What is the most important function of a political party? ›

The basic purpose of political parties is to nominate candidates for public office and to get as many of them elected as possible. Once elected, these officials try to achieve the goals of their party through legislation and program initiatives.

What are three responsibilities of political parties? ›

A political party is made up of individuals who organize to win elections, operate government, and influence public policy.

What is the role and importance of a political party? ›

A political party is defined as a political group that is officially recognized as being part of the electoral process and who can support (put forth) candidates for elections (free or not) on a regular basis (Sartori 1976).

What does the Independent party believe in? ›

The American Independent Party is the party of ordered liberty in a nation under God. We believe in strict adherence to written law. We believe the Constitution is the contract America has with itself.

What are independent voting members? ›

The definition of an independent voting member of the Board of Directors includes four criteria that must be met for independence: The individual received no compensation as an officer or other employee of the organization, or a related organization.

Is the independent a liberal or conservative? ›

It has been seen as leaning to the left wing of the political spectrum, making it more a competitor to The Guardian. However, The Independent tends to take a liberal, pro-market stance on economic issues. The Independent on Sunday referred to itself as a "proudly liberal newspaper".

What is another word for unaffiliated? ›

What is another word for unaffiliated?
10 more rows

How do you use unaffiliated in a sentence? ›

His teaching career ended in 1952, and he was thereafter unaffiliated. A majority converted to another religion while a substantial minority are counted as currently unaffiliated. Politically, however, they are fully independent entities, unaffiliated with the council of their former county.

What does unaffiliated third party mean? ›

Nonaffiliated third party: A “nonaffiliated third party” is any person except a financial institution's affiliate or a person employed jointly by a financial institution and a company that is not the institution's affiliate.

What does it mean when your political party is independent? ›

An independent or non-partisan politician is a politician not affiliated with any political party or bureaucratic association. There are numerous reasons why someone may stand for office as an independent.

Who was the last independent to win presidency? ›

Millard Fillmore, a member of the Whig party, was the 13th President of the United States (1850-1853) and the last President not to be affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican parties.

What are the 3 different types of voting systems? ›

According to a 2006 survey of electoral system experts, their preferred electoral systems were in order of preference: Mixed member proportional. Single transferable vote. Open list proportional.

What makes an unfair election? ›

Unfairness in elections encompasses all varieties of electoral fraud, voter suppression or intimidation, unbalanced campaign finance rules, and imbalanced access to the media.

What is the minimum majority needed to win the election? ›

A total of 538 electors form the Electoral College. Each elector casts one vote following the general election. The candidate who gets 270 votes or more wins.

How much is needed for a majority? ›

It is a subset of a set consisting of more than half of the set's elements. For example, if a group consists of 20 individuals, a majority would be 11 or more individuals, while having 10 or fewer individuals would not constitute a majority.

What do you call a person with no political views? ›

Apoliticism is apathy or antipathy towards all political affiliations. A person may be described as apolitical if they are uninterested or uninvolved in politics.

What do you call undecided voters? ›

Swing voters are undecided about how they will vote. They are sometimes referred to as undecideds, undecided voters, or floating voter.

Why do people not participate in politics? ›

Education – without information and knowledge, meaningful participation in politics can be difficult. Social isolation – there is a limited network to support and encourage political participation. Personal factors – people may have limited confidence or motivation to participate.

What is the safest town to live in in North Carolina? ›

Table of Contents:
5 Safest Cities in North Carolina
CityPopulationUpHomes Safety Rank
Holly Springs43,5243
2 more rows
1 Oct 2022

At what age do you stop paying property taxes in North Carolina? ›

Senior Citizens / Disabled

North Carolina excludes from property taxes a portion of the appraised value of a permanent residence owned and occupied by North Carolina residents aged 65 or older or totally and permanently disabled whose 2022 income does not exceed $33,800 annually.

What part of NC is best to live in? ›

9 Best Places to Live in North Carolina
  1. Raleigh. The state capital is the place to be for professionals and people who want to change the world. ...
  2. Charlotte. The Queen City was named after a British queen consort who reigned back when Charlotte was built in 1768. ...
  3. Chapel Hill. ...
  4. Winston-Salem. ...
  5. Durham. ...
  6. Wilmington. ...
  7. Asheville. ...
  8. Hickory.
12 Sept 2022

Is North Carolina a red state? ›

No. Like most U.S. states, North Carolina is politically dominated by the Democratic and Republican political parties.

Is South Carolina a good place to retire? ›

South Carolina is a good state to live in or retire to because its climate is mild, and the state is, overall, affordable. A survey by Retirement Living has ranked South Carolina as the #4 best state to retire to. South Carolina has a lower cost of living and some beautiful beaches that are warm practically year-round.

Which 3 challenges are faced by political parties? ›

A political party faces various challenges like lack of internal democracy, dynamic succession, money, and muscle power.
  • Lack of internal democracy: ...
  • The dynamic succession: ...
  • The money and muscle power: ...
  • Ideological issues are also an issue that impacts public choices.
11 Oct 2022

What are two of the most important characteristics of political parties? ›

Characteristics of a political party are: A political party has members who agree on some policies and programmes for the society with a view to promoting the common good. It seeks to implement the policies by winning popular support through elections. The presence of a leader, the party workers and supporters.

What are the most essential characteristics of a political party? ›

The characteristics of a Political Party are to attain power, pursue an ideology, have a common agenda, establish a government, and act as a link between the people & the government. A political party is a collection of people who come together to contest elections and control the government.

What can I do to help my political party? ›

  1. Making contributions.
  2. Public communications.
  3. Volunteering.
  4. Using a computer for political activity.
  5. Presidential elections.
  6. Filing a complaint.
  7. Continue learning.

What are the two major functions of political parties? ›

Functions of political parties: i Parties contest elections. ii They put forward policies and programmes. iii Parties play a decisive role in making laws.

What is one role of the third-party? ›

“The most important role of third parties is to bring new ideas and institutions into politics. They innovate,” says Allan Lichtman, history professor at American University in Washington.

What is a political party short answer? ›

A political party is an organization that coordinates candidates to compete in a particular country's elections. It is common for the members of a party to hold similar ideas about politics, and parties may promote specific ideological or policy goals.

Do we need political party at all? ›

Parties form and run governments 5. Shape public opinions 6. Access to government machinery and welfare schemes. Necessity: We can't think of democracy without political parties and their roles – Elected representatives are responsible, accountable, and legitimate to the needs of the people.

Why do people form political parties? ›

The diverse conditions of historical eras, and differing ideologies of America's people, gave rise to various political parties, founded to advance specific ideals and the candidates who represented them. Today, America is a multi-party system. The Democratic Party and the Republican Party are the most powerful.

How are the independents voting? ›

Because independents do not belong to a political party, they can make up their own mind about whether to vote for or against a proposal. An independent can sometimes vote with the government and sometimes with the opposition. On some occasions, an independent may choose to abstain.

What does independent party affiliation mean? ›

An independent or non-partisan politician is a politician not affiliated with any political party or bureaucratic association. There are numerous reasons why someone may stand for office as an independent.

How is an individual's party affiliation determined? ›

Party identification is typically determined by the political party that an individual most commonly supports (by voting or other means). Some researchers view party identification as "a form of social identity", in the same way that a person identifies with a religious or ethnic group.

What is the independent party called? ›

The American Independent Party (AIP) is a far-right political party in the United States that was established in 1967.

Are there more Republicans or Democrats? ›

Gallup. On December 17, 2020, Gallup polling found that 31% of Americans identified as Democrats, 25% identified as Republican, and 41% as Independent.

What is it called when you agree with both political parties? ›

Bipartisanship, sometimes referred to as nonpartisanship, is a political situation, usually in the context of a two-party system (especially those of the United States and some other western countries), in which opposing political parties find common ground through compromise.

What is your political affiliation? ›

Your political party affiliation is the party that you choose to associate with. Depending on your state, you may be asked your party affiliation when you register to vote. You can change your party affiliation online, by mail, or over the phone using the methods for changing your voter registration information.

How many seats do you need to be a recognized party? ›

In the Senate, a group must have nine seats to be recognized.

Which of the following are the three most major factors that influence a voter's choice? ›

The three cleavage-based voting factors focused on in research are class, gender and religion. Firstly, religion is often a factor which influences one's party choice.


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2. What to watch in the North Carolina Senate race between Cheri Beasley and Ted Budd
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3. Full Episode | Black Issues Forum | Commentary on Election 2022
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4. Election '22: What Matters: The Voter's Guide To The Midterms
5. Voters In Pennsylvania Are Voting ‘Against The Other Candidate’
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6. Recent and Future Developments in Election Law [2022 North Carolina Chapters Conference]
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