For the first time in Robeson County history, countywide Democratic voter registration has dipped below 60%. At 59.8%, it is just barely under, but 60% is a significant number nonetheless.
The Democratic supermajority in Robeson disappeared some time ago, allowing local Republicans to become competitive in local races. The 60% number is simply another milestone in local politics for numerous reasons. The biggest reason is Democrats may have just lost their simple majority as well. It doesn’t take a drop below 50% for this to occur.
There has already been at least a 10-point shift in Democratic voter share from Democrat to Republican. That number is clear. In the past a statewide Republican who won neighboring Republican counties at least achieved 38 to 40% in Robeson when winning district-wide. Today, those same Republicans performed 10 points higher in Robeson during the past two cycles in relation to their traditional performance in Republican leaning counties. That means Republicans are doing comparatively better than ever against their Republican county cohorts.
In other words, a Republican performing at 40% in Robeson was doing well enough in neighboring Republican counties to easily win district-wide. Today a Republican performing at 40% in Robeson may not be doing as well in neighboring Republican counties as before. The performance expectation in Robeson is simply rising for Republican candidates. The bar for Republican candidates is suddenly lower than ever.
County Democrat registration was 75% 10 years ago. The Democratic fall of 15% is precipitous and twice the statewide Democratic fall of 7% during the same period. Nationwide, Democrat registration has dropped only 4% while Republican registration has risen 1%.
Unaffiliated voting is the strong demographic. We know quite a bit about unaffiliated voter trends, mostly due to Pew Research and other polling organizations.
Research demonstrates that unaffiliated voters hold more negative views towards political parties and candidates than partisans. But they are partisan nonetheless. Independent voters who lean toward one of the two parties are much closer in their views with the partisans to which they lean as opposed to independents who lean the other way. In other words, the gap between independent voters who lean GOP and those who lean Democrat is as wide as the gap between Republican and Democrat partisans.
The studies show that though independent voters statistically seem independent on paper due to their unaffiliated registration, they are no less independent in ideological perspective. They are just fed up with the partisan structure and less engaged in that partisan struggle.
Unaffiliated voters therefore demonstrate a transition between parties as opposed to a firm demographic that is totally unpredictable in between partisanship. If you know which way they are moving, then you have a good idea on how they will vote in a given region.
In Robeson, there is a direct correlation between Democratic losses and unaffiliated or Republican gains. During the past decade, while Democrats have lost 15% in registration, unaffiliated votership has risen 13% and Republican has risen 2%. There have been no fluctuations. The correlation has been perfectly linear.
This linear trend coupled with voting pattern adjustments over the past two election cycles is strong evidence that local unaffiliated voters lean conservatively. Factor in at least the known 10% shift in conservative Democrats already voting Republican but not changing registration and the Democratic simple majority is lost in Robeson. Elections are now up for grabs on either side of the ideological aisle, making Robeson a clear swing county.
The bottom line is the majority of county unaffiliated voters along with at least 10% of Democratic voters — and that number is really higher but we can demonstrate at least 10% easily — are not going to support any candidate that is not centrist or leans right of center ideologically.
Blue Dog Democrats are either voting Republican or becoming Republican in Robeson County. It’s a new day and the 2020 cycle is just beginning.
Phillip Stephens is chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party.