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Wilson County sees 35 percent climb in unaffiliated voters
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Wilson County sees 35 percent climb in unaffiliated voters

Pundits may label him a swing voter, but Keith Watson isn’t straddling the fence of partisan politics. He’s not undecided — he’s decidedly unaffiliated.

Watson is one of more than 10,000 unaffiliated voters in Wilson County, a group that’s grown 35.4 percent since 2008. He blames both Democrats and Republicans for partisan gridlock from Capitol Hill to the state capital.

"Honestly, I can’t tell much difference between the parties if you really get past the rhetoric and look at how people are voting,” Watson said. "I’m not hearing enough about the changes we need to make to get back on track from either side.”

Watson, a Wilson resident, left the Republican Party more than a year ago. He leans Libertarian, favoring personal freedom, limited government and free markets.

"I really didn’t identify with either party anymore,” Watson said. "The two-party system needs a real close look. A lot of Republicans are not Republicans, and they’re not conservative. The Democratic Party is a little different. Some of the things they support are not what the old Democratic Party used to stand for.”

Wilson County had 6,347 unaffiliated voters in 2007, according to N.C. State Board of Elections figures. Today, more than 10,000 of the county’s nearly 55,000 voters are registered unaffiliated.

The number of registered Democrats is down 2.7 percent from 2008, while Republican registrations fell 2.2 percent during the same four-year span, voter registration statistics show.

Throughout the Tar Heel State, more voters are declaring their independence from the two major political parties. The number of unaffiliated voters grew 24.6 percent statewide from 2008-12 compared with gains of 1.9 percent for Democrats and 2.8 percent for Republicans.

"It’s certainly a long-term trend in North Carolina,” said Robert P. Joyce, a professor of public law and government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Wilson County now has 31,020 Democrats, 13,762 Republicans, 10,096 unaffiliated voters and 69 Libertarians, according to county voter statistics.



Democratic and Republican leaders see the sea change in party affiliation playing out locally and statewide.

"The Republican and the Democratic parties nationally and locally have people sort of jumping ship and registering unaffiliated,” said Wilson County Democratic Party Chairman Asa Gregory. "That’s fair game to talk about, because I do believe that members of both parties are disappointing voters.”

Gary Proffitt, chairman of the Wilson County Republican Party, said he knows several former Republicans who left the party amid growing frustration.

"People are so frustrated with both parties that they’ve just switched to unaffiliated,” Proffitt said.

Office-seekers, campaign managers and party leaders are tailoring their messages in an effort to woo unaffiliated voters. For his part, Watson wouldn’t say who he plans to vote for in the presidential contest or in local races.

Proffitt said many unaffiliated voters may favor neither major party, but he believes most have conservative or libertarian views and often vote Republican.

"I do think the majority of the unaffiliated are more conservative than not,” he said. "We are just trying to educate the public out there who may be sitting on the fence why it’s important to vote conservative.”

Wilson County’s top Republican said many county residents are "Reagan Democrats” who often vote for conservative candidates despite longstanding family ties to the Democratic Party.

"If every Republican who voted, voted Republican, they couldn’t have put Sen. (Buck) Newton in office,” Proffitt said. "He got a lot of help from the Democrats and the unaffiliated.”

More than ever, Gregory said, both parties realize the importance of listening to unaffiliated voters’ concerns.

"As the independent voter pool grows, you have to get real serious about what you’re saying,” he said. "I think that you have to listen to everyone and understand their concerns, not just spew rhetoric that you think people want to hear.”

Gregory believes most voters support a social safety net, including Social Security and Medicare. Calling those programs entitlements often is misleading, he said, because recipients contribute to both through payroll taxes.

"The American dream should be open to everyone, and everyone should have an opportunity to lift themselves up,” Gregory said.

Increases in unaffiliated voters can improve the political process, Gregory said, if they translate to increases in voter turnout.

"I think everyone should vote,” he said. "Even if you don’t agree with me and my party, I think it is important to participate.”



Many voters are unaffiliated because North Carolina allows them to vote in the party primary of their choice. Watson cited that advantage as "the main thing” that led him to the unaffiliated fold.

"It’s my belief that we need kind of a no-party system, if anything,” Watson said, explaining that he votes for candidates based on their platforms rather than their party affiliation.

Joyce said state law allows the Democratic and Republican parties to choose whether to admit unaffiliated voters in their primary races and both parties have decided to do so.

North Carolina’s election law favors the two dominant political parties and doesn’t provide unaffiliated or third-party voters the same opportunities for participation, Joyce explained.

Five members comprise the State Board of Elections, and no more than three can be members of the same party. The governor traditionally appoints three members of his or her party and two from the opposing party.

"The party of the governor controls the election apparatus of the whole state, and that’s all based on party affiliation,” Joyce said. "From the state board right down to the precinct level, it’s all split between two parties. There’s no provision for participation by the unaffiliated.”

The State Board of Elections appoints elections boards for each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Those boards are similarly composed of two members of the governor’s party and one member of the opposing party.

"It does raise the question now with unaffiliated becoming such a large portion of voters whether there needs to be some tinkering with how the structure works,” Joyce said.

As the unaffiliated voter pool grows, organized third parties remain a tough sell in North Carolina. The state has just 17,062 registered Libertarians.

Watson, who supported Rep. Ron Paul in the Republican presidential primary, believes Republicans and Democrats have colluded to marginalize and exclude third-party candidates.

Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson is suing debate organizers for a spot on the stage with President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney.

"I think they are a little bit scared of giving anybody like that a platform,” Watson said. "I think both parties are scared to death of that.”

Watson said independent voters deserve a place at the political table, and as the unaffiliated surge continues in North Carolina, he thinks more people will realize they are neither Republicans nor Democrats.

"It’s going to take an awakening from the bottom up,” he said, "not a revolution in the streets, just an awakening.” | 265-7821
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View Comments:Show/Hide(7 comments)
I've always been Independent said...

since my first election in 1984. Even at the tender age of 18, I understood the folly of being part of the 2-party system. Glad to see more of my countrymen and women are finally beginning to see the light. Remember, the lesser of 2 evils is still evil.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012 at 1:24 AM
Don't discount before you investigate... said...

...the platform of the Libertarian Party. You think they're kooks, bent on anarchy, isolationism and drug legalization? That's just what the Republicrats want you to believe. Why are the two (really one) parties afraid to allow the true party of freedom a spot at the table? I'm one of the unaffiliated but have a proud Libertarian/Jeffersonian streak in me! Check their position on the issues and see if you agree.

Monday, October 08, 2012 at 1:42 PM
I changed to said...

unaffliated so I could vote for Calvin Woodard. However, I am going to remain that way, because I will voting for both Dems and Reps. Depends on the person running and what I think they can do for us!

Monday, October 08, 2012 at 11:51 AM
Reagan Fan but said...

In NC we were always referred to as "JesseCrats".

Monday, October 08, 2012 at 11:29 AM
both parties are going heavy after hispanic voters said...

the fastest growing minority ethnic group in the country. with Blacks voting lock step at a 93 plus percent democratic allegiance. republicans pretty much discount them and it isnt worth the time and money to try to attract 5 to 7 percent of the black electorate and the democrats pretty much do the same as they can discount black support and not waste alot of money courting it, as they know the overwhelming majority of blacks are going to vote democratic regardless who is on the ballot. so the unafiliated( independent0 and hispanic vote in the future is going to determine the majority of elections.

Monday, October 08, 2012 at 9:33 AM
Now if we could only said...

get a third unafiliated or independent party going full steam and clean out the cesspool in Raleigh and Washington with partisan career politicians whose vote is for sale to the highest bidder. i was a lifetime republican party member. the day i heard wayne gay had joined the county republican party was the day me and my wife changed our party afilation to unafiliated. i fogured if a lifetime democratic crook who used his office for personal polotical and financial gain all his career was welcomed with open arms it was time for me to leave the republican party. the decision by Pat McCrory to have him hold a fundraiser and do a commercial for him solidified ny position. i am still a fiscal conservative and mederate on social issues and i still lean with the republican party on most issues, but i support the man or woaman and not the party. i would have voted for and supported amd will continue to support Calvin woodard regardless what party oppostion he may have .

Monday, October 08, 2012 at 9:27 AM Billy Prickett said...

Vote for the man not the party. Do a search on google for Bill Ayers, George Soros and Obama together and you can decide who to vote for.

Monday, October 08, 2012 at 11:06 PM
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