RALEIGH, North Carolina (WTVD) -- It's been trending this way since 2009, but conservative Raleigh think-tank Civitas said it believes a major shift is upon us when it comes to how North Carolina voters identify themselves.
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Back in 2009, there were more than 2.8 million registered Democrats in North Carolina, slightly more than 2 million Republicans and 1.4 million unaffiliated voters.
Eight years later, there are 2.6 million registered Democrats, 2,054,832 Republicans and 2,043,809 unaffiliated voters.
Civitas' Carolina Transparency project, which examines the numbers each week, found that while Democrats have experienced a net loss of more than 229,000 registered voters, Republicans have seen a net gain of more than 49,000 and unaffiliated voters have exploded - gaining more than 638,000 voters.
Susan Myrick, an elections policies analyst at the think-tank, concludes unaffiliated voters will soon surpass registered Republicans; but she says it's Democrats who should be worried.
Myrick says the Democrats are the only party that's losing voters; and that growing base of unaffiliated voters is more often than not voting Republican.
"In the even years (unaffiliated voters) are leaning towards the Republicans," Myrick said. "Just because they're unaffiliated doesn't mean they're middle of the road or moderates, what some people would think. We believe that unaffiliated voters have definite opinions, they're just choosing not to identify themselves with a party."
State Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said he thinks the shift is evidence of voters' growing annoyance at the "hyper-partisanship" in modern politics, not a rebuke of the Democratic Party at-large.
"It will make work harder for the hearts, minds, souls and votes of those unaffiliated voters," Goodwin said. "And, to me it will make us better. It'll make us put together our message and operations even better. And, I think it'll make us a better political party."
Across North Carolina, state and county election boards are made up strictly of Democratic and Republican appointees.
Given the explosive growth of unaffiliated voters, expect more pressure on state lawmakers to open these panels to independents - who may soon be the majority.
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Unaffiliated NC voters may soon outnumber GOP, gaining on Dems
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