The changing political landscape in Robeson is not recent.
In 1995, 89 percent of county voters were registered Democrat, only 8 percent were Republican and 3 percent were unaffiliated. This had been stable for 100 years.
By 2000, a slow trend was apparently. Democratic registration had fallen slowly to 84 percents, Republican registration rose to 9 percent and unaffiliated trended steadily to 7 percent.
By 2007, local Republicans actively promoted unaffiliated as a gateway to switching registration. Democrats had fallen to 78 percent while Republicans and unaffiliated grew to 11 percent each that year.
The entire state experienced a similar unaffiliated surge. But the Robeson surge pushed by Republicans was much faster. Today, local Democratic registration has declined to 71 percent. GOP has slowly risen to 12 percent and unaffiliated account for 17 percent. So these are consistent trends.
Democrats typically lose a percentage point each year. Where do they go? Well, the GOP gains 0.25 percent annually and unaffiliated gains 0.75 percent. The trend has been stable since 1995.
Unaffiliated voters have little desire to get tied to a party. They just want to vote. Registering unaffiliated allows them to vote in either primary. This flexibility is one reason for its popularity.
These trends are expected to continue. By 2020, statistical models project that Robeson will be 64 percent Democrat, 14 percent Republican and 22 percent unaffiliated. But these are broad county averages and can never be utilized to predict election outcomes. Some precincts already surpass the 2020 projected average.
Currently, Lumberton No. 1, one of the county’s largest precincts, has only 59 percent registered Democrats, 24 percent are Republican and 17 percent unaffiliated. Lumber Bridge and Parkton actually have the lowest percentage of registered Democrats at 57 percent and 56 percent respectively.
The patterns are a bit more elusive in places like Wisharts, which is 66 percent Democratic, and White House, which is 72 percent Democratic, both of which vote overwhelmingly for Republican candidates despite having Democratic registration similar to the county average. This should shift by 2020, but is a bit deceptive as voting patterns do not match registration.
Precincts like Lumberton No. 6 with 87 percent Democratics, Rowland with 83 percent and Lumberton No. 5 with 82 percent help hold the county Democratic average above 70 percent as they have not shifted much during the past decade.
According to Pew Research, nationwide Democratic registration is on a gradual decline. Republicans remain stable. But unaffiliated is at the highest level in two decades. In more than half of North Carolina counties, unaffiliated voters outnumber either Democrats or Republicans. At least in Robeson, this is good for Republicans, as unaffiliated voters tend to be conservative here. This has helped elect local Republicans.
Nationally, 22 percent of voters describe themselves as liberal. Moderates account for 37 percent and conservatives 36 percent. In Robeson, the liberal number is probably lower and conservative percentage a bit higher. But registration is actually only a minor data point.
Registration is a poor measure of predicting election outcomes and only an indirect measure of voter sentiment. It isn’t a reflection of voter turnout or voting behavior.
Sometime during the next decade, this trend may peak. A study published by American Thinker magazine found that on average, for every 1 percent increase in the number of households receiving federal assistance there was a 2 percent increase in the vote share received by President Obama.
You’d think a successful measure of combating poverty would be how many folks the government could help graduate from federal assistance and into the workforce. But instead, liberals measure the success of a welfare program by how many are enrolled.
So although many may be worse off because of liberal policies, areas like Robeson that are heavily dependent on federal aid will tend to lean Democrat despite a Washington Times report that poverty has reached a 50-year record high under Obama. Nevertheless, balance is slowly being achieved. These registration trends may even signal a brighter future for Robeson as politically balanced counties tend to be more prosperous.
Phillip Stephens is chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party.