Archived Opinion

The rise of the unaffiliated voter

The rise of the unaffiliated voter

Early voting has started. In North Carolina and across the nation there are many close races that will likely be decided by just a few percentage points. That means the swing voters — those who don’t vote a straight party ticket but instead vote for the candidate based on their qualifications or perhaps even their personality — could very well be the difference in those tight races.

That group of nonpartisan voters is the fastest growing bloc in the country. For anyone who follows politics, it’s no mystery why this happening. The two-party system in America is broke, and many have doubts it can be fixed. The constant rancor and divisive debate are hurting the country. Hell, people now avoid talking politics at social gatherings because it’s so difficult to have a discussion on the issues without it devolving into a kind of line-in-the-sand playground fight. 

A January Gallup poll found that 42 percent of Americans call themselves independents, far ahead of the 29 percent who call themselves Democrats and the 27 who say they are Republicans. 

Voter registration statistics in North Carolina show more partisans and fewer independents, but unaffiliated are still the majority. In our state unaffiliated voters clock in at 36 percent, with 34 percent registered as Democrats and 30 percent registered as Republicans. However, those registering as independents are the fastest growing bloc here, just as in the rest of the nation. 

Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, has studied the increase in unaffiliated voters in North Carolina and the country. He was recently interviewed by the Washington Post about this issue, and he had some interesting thoughts on how this will affect the outcome of races in this election and what it bodes for the future. 

“Voters are signaling something to us. A lot of smart folks might disagree with me and say, ‘Look, so many of these are shadow partisans. Don’t worry about them. I think the voters are trying to say they may not be able to escape the two-party system, but they’re going to push back on it when they can,” Cooper told WP reporter Rhonda Colvin in an Oct. 24 story in that newspaper. 

Related Items

In that piece, Cooper credited unaffiliated voters — who in North Carolina get to choose which primary to vote in —with knocking controversial congressman Madison Cawthorn out of office by flocking to the polls in the primary. 

“Cawthorn, of course, infamous one-term member of Congress in North Carolina, lost his own party primary. Lost it for a host of reasons, but part of that is those unaffiliated voters got to choose which primary they wanted to vote in, and they came in much larger than the normal numbers to vote in the Republican primary. They voted Madison Cawthorn out of office.”

Cooper noted that a much larger percentage of young voters are registering as unaffiliated. I mentioned earlier how I’m sometimes reluctant to discuss politics at informal gatherings, but Cooper thinks registering as unaffiliated can also act as a kind of “social cover.”

“As Americans increasingly, one, express dissatisfaction with the two major parties and, two, do some social covering — if you say you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you might be shut out of dating pools, you might be shut out of a job. So [choosing nonpartisanship] is a way to cover yourself, but it’s also a way to express dissatisfaction with the two major parties,” Cooper said. 

What’s interesting, and Cooper mentioned this in the WP article, is that unaffiliated candidates seldom win elected office. While independents make up the largest bloc of voters, to get elected right now you have to choose a party to get in bed with. As more young people define themselves as independent, however, sometime soon that may help us get rid of the two-party system that has dominated American politics for so long. 

That’s a future I hope I’m around to see. 

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Leave a comment


  • I hope to be around to see voting for the person, too. In the mean time, if all of us will do the little extra homework reading the real positions of candidates from their own statements and websites, we'll come closer to voting for the person, not the party.
    Example: Josh Remillard is a two-tour-of-duty Army veteran of Iraq who only recently registered Democrat--he's 42, the top of the demographic you write about. He's walked and driven all over these mountains listening to people about what they want him to do in the NC House, just as he listened to and respected the soldiers under him.
    Josh was moved to run for office because Mark Pless has run roughshod over our local elected officials, favoring instead special interests behind his campaign. Whereas Josh and his wife and two little girls own a home in Bethel and have a model American family, Pless was fired from EMS for sending a photo of his genitals to a woman co-worker. Josh has a Bachelor's degree in political science. Pless has no degree. Voters, if you vote for the person according to his morality and his platform, which candidate do you favor?

    posted by Mary Curry

    Monday, 10/31/2022

  • Mike R, let's not defame women. Lucille Josephs is a man without the backbone to post even his given name.

    posted by Susan supports Jasmine Beach-Ferrara

    Monday, 10/31/2022

  • Lucy meet hypocrisy. The woman who posts hateful speech on numerous subjects for years against her fellow citizens blaming all those leftists socialist communist demoncrats for the hate in this country. Pot meet kettle and her name is Lucille Josephs.

    posted by Mike R

    Sunday, 10/30/2022

  • Leftist Liberals and democrat socialists hate the Constitution, hate America and hate informed voters. They are the party of HATE.

    posted by Lucille Josephs

    Thursday, 10/27/2022

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.