Analysis: Suburban voters make up 60% of N.C.’s GOP defections

Analysis: Suburban voters make up 60% of N.C.’s GOP defections
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More than 20,000 North Carolina voters have left the Republican Party to become unaffiliated since Election Day, and nearly 60% of them are from suburban areas, a recent analysis by political scientist Dr. Michael Bitzer found.

Why it matters: Republicans rose to power in North Carolina in 2010 on the shoulders of suburban voters. A decade later people in those areas are more likely to be dissatisfied with the party after the Trump presidency.
By the numbers: Bitzer, a Catawba professor who runs the Old North State Politics site, says that while most people are focused on the overall number of defections (20,218 Republicans have gone unaffiliated vs. 9,595 for Democrats), he’s most interested in where they’re coming from. 
  • 31% are from suburban counties like Cabarrus and Gaston and others just outside main urban counties.
  • 28% are from urban suburbs (ex. Cornelius, Huntersville).
  • 27% are from cities.
  • Just 14% are from rural counties.

What he’s saying: “If you look at the grand scheme of things, 20,000 is 1% (of the overall statewide GOP voter base). So it’s a drop in the ocean, or a drop in Lake Norman,” Bitzer says. “The Republican Party’s core base in this is within suburban North Carolina. That’s where they grew back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.”

The Charlotte suburbs received tons of national attention last fall as the battleground region of this battleground state.
  • Joe Biden cut into Donald Trump’s 2016 margin in places like Cabarrus County, but Trump still claimed the state’s 15 electoral votes by 1.3 percentage points.
  • The suburbs will figure prominently in the 2022 U.S. Senate race, which could include a GOP primary bid from Lara Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law.
What’s happening: Across the board, reasons for leaving are complicated.
  • Former county commissioner Matthew Ridenhour’s parents left the party for very different reasons: “Mom angry at GOP for not sticking up for Trump. Dad angry at Trump re: Jan 6,” he tweeted.

Parker Cains, a millennial who ran for city council as a Republican in 2017, switched to unaffiliated before the 2020 election. He told me he and his wife were tired of the party’s “Trump or die philosophy.”

Cains lives in Dilworth, a neighborhood that’s now in the heart of Charlotte but was set up as Charlotte’s original streetcar suburb a century ago, and it still maintains some of those characteristics.

  • Cains also wanted a voice in local races. Democrats dominate local politics here, and their primaries usually determine who winds up on the city council or county commission.
“I beat my head against a brick wall running for city council trying to convince people that urban Republicans weren’t the same as national Republicans,” says Cains. “Republicans don’t even have a seat at the table because of the perception of what we believe.”

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