What percentage of each generation remains unregistered to vote in North Carolina?

Over at Old North State Politics (and on Twitter as @BowTiePolitics), Dr. Michael Bitzer of Catawba College has been diving into the State Board of Elections registered voter data to understand demographic and partisan trends in voter registration. In response to recent posts about generational patterns, someone asked: “What percentage of each generation remains unregistered to vote in North Carolina?

Our estimates indicate that 14% of voting-eligible Millennials (ages 18-34 in 2016) and 8% of other generations (Gen X, Baby Boomers, and Silent/Greatest) remain unregistered to vote.

A large number of registered voters are “inactive,” however, meaning that they have not participated in recent federal elections. Focusing only on “active, registered” voters—those with the greatest probability of showing up on Election Day—shows much larger generational gaps. Only 67% of voting-eligible Millennials and 73% of Gen Xers are active, registered voters, compared to 81% of Boomers and 82% of Silent/Greatest voting-eligibles.

Baby Boomers dominate active NC voters_Millennials most likely to be inactive or unregistered

Put another way, inactive and unregistered voters represent potential untapped votes. In North Carolina in 2016, there are an estimated 1.84 million eligible voters who are either inactive or unregistered. The majority of these individuals—1.25 million or 68%—are either Millennial (696K) or Gen Xers (552K).

Data Sources

To answer this, we needed the following information:

  • the size of each generation;
  • the share of each generation that is eligible to vote based on citizenship; and
  • the number of registered voters in each generation.

We used the following definitions for generations: Millennials (1982-later); Gen X (1965-1981); Baby Boomer (1945-1964); Silent/Greatest (1944 or earlier). The size of each generation living in the state was calculated from the Office of State Budget and Management’s single year of age population projections for 2016. We used the most recent American Community Survey data (2014) to estimate the share of each generation that is eligible to vote based on citizenship. Finally, we used the registered voter file (9/3/2016 version) from the North Carolina State Board of Elections to identify the number of active and inactive voters currently registered in the state.

About Rebecca Tippett

Rebecca Tippett is Director of Carolina Demography at UNC-Chapel Hill's Carolina Population Center.
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