In the New York Times, Nate Cohn suggests that Democrats might be addressing the turnout problems they’ve faced in recent midterm elections. Nationally, the last two midterms were disasters for Democrats. The 2010 Republican wave set the stage for the dramatic redistricting that’s hampering competitive races and helping keep Democrats out of power.
Cohn looks at turnout in special elections in state legislative races this year to note that Democratic turnout is up considerably. It’s early, but those numbers could bode well for Democrats in 2018, especially with a Republican president. Historically in midterms, Republicans have held an advantage in turnout but the margins shrink when the GOP holds the White House. Combined with an organized opposition on the left, the enthusiasm gap could make 2018 a very good year for Democrats.
In North Carolina, Democrats took a beating in 2010 but held off the Republican wave that hit the rest of the country in 2014, in part because of anger at the Republicans in the legislature and then-Governor Pat McCrory. The last good midterm for Democrats was 2006. With no statewide races at the top of the ticket, Democrats channeled frustration with the Bush White House into a wave that led them to pick up one Congressional seat and missed winning another by just 200 votes.
In 2014, the electorate in North Carolina was 42% Democrat, 35% Republican and 23% unaffiliated. In 2010, it was 41% Democrat, 38% Republican and 21% unaffiliated. While enthusiasm among Republicans was higher in 2010, the unaffiliated vote decided both elections. In 2010, it broke heavily for Republicans; in 2014, less so. In 2018, Democrats will need those unaffiliated voters to swing back to them.
Every 12 years, North Carolina has a blue moon election with no statewide campaign to drive turnout. The last one was 2006 and the 37% turnout led to a Democratic wave. The one before that was 1994 and Republicans took control of the state House for the first time in a 100 years. A low turnout with a big enthusiasm gap makes a big difference.
The 2018 blue moon election is an opportunity for Democrats. Across North Carolina, they’re energized. On Saturday, large crowds showed up at Democratic county conventions across the state. Candidates are already building campaigns for state legislature and Congress. The party needs to hope they can sustain the enthusiasm. And they need to hope that the Trump surge voters stay home.