DOBSON — Politics in Surry County is no longer just a two-party proposition with Democrats and Republicans, due to the rise of a third group that’s not even a political party at all: unaffiliated voters.
New registration figures show that those with no party affiliation outnumber Democrats 12,416 to 11,714, a margin of 702 people.
The Republican Party has the most registered voters locally, 18,713, according to figures released Friday by the Surry County Board of Elections. And while that represents an increase compared to earlier years (rather than a decline in the case of Democrats), GOP registration has not grown as much as the unaffiliated category.
Surry County Democratic Party Chairman Lloyd Terry believes the shift from the traditional two-party system locally and elsewhere reflects a trend of Republicans and Democrats migrating nationally from the more middle-of-the-road, moderate positions each once occupied.
“I think both parties have extremists to some degree,” Terry added Monday. “I don’t think most people want to be affiliated with either party, to be honest with you.”
Although he still firmly clings to the conventional wisdom that “all politics is local,” with grassroots involvements influencing the national picture in the long run, the county Democratic chairman thinks the opposite has been true of late.
In the case of Democrats, this has included many office-holders and candidates — including those recently seeking the party’s presidential nomination — adopting far-left political stances embracing socialism, which has turned off many in the middle.
Those voters have steadily migrated away from that party in Surry as a result, and while the GOP might have benefited some from switches in registration, the big winner has been the unaffiliated group which has eclipsed the Democrats’ ranks.
“I think that changed around the first of the year,” county Elections Director Susan Jarrell said of independent voters taking over the number two spot behind Republicans.
Surry County also has 126 registered Libertarians, six people affiliated with the Constitution Party and three registered with the Green Party. Total registration stood at 42,978 as of Friday.
After many years of Democratic domination in Surry, registered Republicans finally overtook Democrats in late 2011 for the first time in history. The margin then was 17,091 to 17,088 in favor of the GOP.
In contrast, Democrats enjoyed nearly a two-to-one advantage in the county in 1980, boasting 19,175 registered voters to the Republicans’ 9,652.
“It ebbs and flows,” said Terry, a retired SBI agent who was a captain with the Surry County Sheriff’s Office until Democrat Sheriff Jimmy Combs lost to Republican Steve Hiatt.
Jarrell, the elections director, cited no specific factors for voters leaving the Democratic Party and becoming unaffiliated.
“People do not give us a reason,” she said, explaining that changes in registration often occur by mail.
More local efforts
While the Surry Democratic chairman believes what’s happening on the national scene is having a larger-than-usual effect on politics locally in terms of voter registration, party officials in the county are doing what they can to alter this course. That includes mounting outreach and other efforts.
“We are definitely working on some different precinct organization, along with some different community projects to get people back interested in voting,” Terry said of seeking to build interest in the Democratic Party while also addressing voter apathy.
“That’s been our core mission here lately,” he said. “I truly believe it goes back to local politics.”
Terry thinks one plus is a tendency among Surry County residents, especially millennials, to vote for the person rather than the party. This has included fewer folks choosing a straight-party ticket.
“As long as people vote for the best candidate, I think things will be OK,” the Democratic chairman said.
“People need to do what’s right for their community.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.