RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Will the decision to forgive student loan debt make a difference in North Carolina elections? While it may be too early to tell, we may only have to look at one voting block to get a hint.

2022 is a historic year. For the first fall election in North Carolina, unaffiliated voters are the largest voting block in the state. Since the beginning of the year, Democrats have lost around 4,500 total registered voters, and Republicans have gained just more than 28,000.

The headline though is that non-partisan registration is up by more than 124,000 voters. But who are these voters?

“It is being driven primarily by younger voters, those voters under the age of 40, millennials and now Gen Zers, they tend to be the most unaffiliated group of voters in our voter pool,” said Michael Bitzer, professor of politics & history at Catawba College.

As of Aug. 20, there are over 2.5 million registered unaffiliated voters, 2.49 million registered democrats and 2.2 million registered republicans.     

Bitzer said unaffiliated voters are paying close attention to the higher costs of everything from what’s on the shelves to the cost of gas– and that could favor Republicans and those worried about the national debt.

But they are also driven by social issues like gay marriage and access to abortion.

“They’re almost social libertarians, they don’t want the government telling them what they can and can not do. And if those national trends tend to hold in North Carolina, with younger voters particularly, I think that’s where we may get a clue. So we could be in this transitory period where generational replacement is playing out and things could play out in this year’s election but most definitely in 2024,” Bitzer said.

Older voters tend lean right, and student loan forgiveness may only reinforce how more conservative voters cast their ballot. But younger voters tend to lean to the left.

Bitzer believes the timing of these issues could impact voters’ decisions.

“Student loan debt is a major issue and I think the timing of this particularly at the beginning of a lot of academic years and higher education, students are back on campus, they hear this news the President is making this policy change, that could work out in their benefit for them to show up. Because what we know is particularly in mid-terms younger voters 18-25 have the lowest turnouts of any cohort,” said Bitzer.