In North Carolina, as many Latino voters are registered independents as Democratic, the two biggest groups of voters in the community. 

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Independent voters -- those not registered with any political party --  make up the 42% of North Carolina’s Latino voters. 

This large chunk of Latino voters is the same as the percentage of Latinos registered as Democrats, according to La Noticia’s analysis of the voter registration files publicly available as november 3 from the North Carolina State Board of Elections. Independents total three times the number of Latinos registered as Republicans in the state. Latinos represent 3% of the registered voters in North Carolina. 

This trend is not unique to North Carolina, nor to Latinos. Unaffiliated voters in the Democratic, Republican and smaller parties have gained strength at the national level, according to experts consulted by La Noticia. And they have shown that strength in helping candidates win the White House in recent presidential elections. 

“Independents have been the margin of victory in favor of the last three presidential elections, and increasingly in the congressional and local elections,” said Omar Ali, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Ali said independent voters helped Barack Obama win the presidency in 2008 but then supported former President Donald Trump in 2016. Another swing  in the 2020 election brought Joe Biden to the White House.

Independents “are going to, in some ways, go to where they feel they can be most disruptive and independent, if you will, given the constraints of the two-party system,” Ali added.

A Gallup poll analyzing party preferences in the first quarter of 2021, indicates that 44% of Americans identify as independents, whether they subsequently express a party leaning or not.

Unaffiliated voters in North Carolina are not barred from voting  in Democratic or Republican primary elections, as  in many other states. But they must choose one party’s primary or the other.

Vote ‘for the person, not the party’

The analysis of North Carolina voter registration files also shows that the younger the voters, the more they prefer to register as independents. 

Nearly half the independent Latino voters registered -- 46 percent -- are under 30, compared to 41% of Democrats and 29% of Republicans.

“The decision to become an independent, to call oneself an independent, is a statement of noncompliance with the party system,”  said Jackie Salit, president of Independent Voting, an organization that works to connect and empower independent voters. “So I believe that it is a very clear political statement, as I say, of noncompliance.”

“When you ask people who are independent, why they've become independent, they will give you a range of answers to that question,” she said.

Salit said t the main reasons for registering as independent, according to studies carried out by the organization around the country, is that voters want to vote “for the person, not the party,” because  “the parties are corrupt" and “they care more about their own power than they care about the community.” Independents also see it as a way to  protest.

Conquest of the independents

In the Latino community, the trend of the independent voter has its own characteristics.

Cecilia Ballí, anthropologist and founder of Culture Concepts consultancy, said the traditional political parties had  not built a relationship with the Latino community. She cited the scarcity of messages in Spanish during electoral campaigns.

“They're newer voters,” said Ballí, who has studied the behavior of Latino voters, mainly in  Texas. “And so many of us, including me, we've come from families were the first generation to vote. And so there isn't a longstanding loyalty to one party that's been passed on from generation to generation.” 

She added that Latinos had  "complex political values" because they can be conservative on issues  like the economy but progressive on  immigration or education.

“The parties are actually going to have to build relationships,” said Ballí, “and spend time throughout the year getting to know constituents better and speaking to them with more tailored messages.” 

Mónica Cordero

Mónica Cordero es una periodista independiente de investigación que usa el análisis de datos para contar historias a profundidad. Es costarricense y vive en la Ciudad de Nueva York.

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