EDITORIAL: Politics in Ferment, Registration Shows
When registration books were closed last week in preparation for the May 6 primary election, the public learned that more prospective voters had registered as unaffiliated than for either major political party.
For the first time in a number of years, Democrats outnumbered Republicans among new registrants. The difference is only five and undoubtedly reflects interest in the Democratic presidential primary, the arena where U.S. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are battling it out.
Also for the first time in years, more Republicans than Democrats opted to switch either to the other party or to unaffiliated status, and a larger number of previously unaffiliated registrants changed to Democrat than to Republican. These changes may reflect dissatisfaction with President Bush, his handling of the war in Iraq and economic concerns.
GOP Still Far Ahead
None of these changes topples the Republican Party from its substantial lead in Moore County registration. Instead, these reversals likely reflect both the excitement of the presidential race on the Democratic side and interest in voting in local primary elections.
Fervor for or against Clinton and Obama have to account for some of those changes, but the biggest reason may be more mundane: Residents are interested in voting for a candidate of a different party because he or she is a relative, a friend, a good neighbor or a helpful business acquaintance. It's happened in the past, and usually these voters switch back to their former party after the election. Examination of post-primary registration books will answer that question.
Cynics charge that Republicans want a chance to vote in the Democratic primary election because they hope North Carolina will elect the candidate most likely to be defeated by the Republican candidate in November. With Sen. John McCain almost certain to be the GOP nominee, Republicans are justified in a temporary loss of loyalty to party.
North Carolina conducts primary elections for both political parties on the same day. Both primaries are closed in the sense that only Democrats vote in the Democratic primary and only Republicans in the Republican primary. State law now allows unaffiliated registrants to vote in one of those primaries by making a request when they go to the polls. The unaffiliated cannot pick and choose among candidates in both primaries. They have to choose the ballot for one or the other.
The real puzzle in the latest registration statistics in Moore County lies not with minor changes in party affiliation of new registrants and not with the possibly temporary and limited number of registration change-overs. Instead, the real puzzle lies in the overall totals.
When the books closed here on April 11, Moore County had 25,207 Republicans, 17,869 Democrats and 14,360 unaffiliated. Considering the rapid growth of the county, it may not take many months for the books to add about 3,500 unaffiliated registrants, thus achieving a balance with Democrats. Such a change is unlikely to affect the GOP majority here, but it surely would transfer a potential balance of power in unknown directions.
Political observers have long seen a trend away from political parties. They say that the parties are no longer as closely connected with or responsive to party members as once was the case. They see party platforms overpowered by special interests not reflective of the average member's concerns.
Election Day results will fill in more details on the registration picture.
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