Winning back the legislature in 2014 is a tall order for North Carolina Democrats. In the state house, the GOP holds a whopping 34 seat advantage, 77-43. In the state senate, Republicans out number Democrats 33-17, a 16 seat advantage. So Democrats would have to flip 18 house districts and 9 senate districts to gain a majority. Short of a national wave, that’s probably not going to happen.
But Democrats can certainly make gains in the legislature and set themselves up to win control in 2016 or 2018. However, they need to focus on changing the make up of the electorate. Historically, Democrats have tried accomplish that by increasing turn out in the African-American community. That won’t work now.
Redistricting packed African-Americans into very few districts. While African-Americans make up more than 20% of registered voters, half are packed into 3 Congressional Districts, 10 state senate districts and 25 state house districts. While increasing their turn out in 2014 may help drive up Kay Hagan’s margin, it won’t likely have much affect on most Congressional or legislative races.
For Democrats to significantly change the electorate in legislative races, their best chance is to target younger voters. Even in 2010, a year Democrats took a shellacking, the party won almost 60% of voters 18-29 years old. However, these young people only made up about 9% of the electorate.
Unfortunately, they are hard voters reach and even harder to motivate. If Democrats want to change the Congressional and legislative make up in the sate, they should begin reaching out now. Next summer is too late.
In Virginia, Terry McAuliffe’s campaign began talking to younger voter more than nine months before the election. As a result, he increased turnout among younger voters by more than 3%. And they did it by going to where young people live–online. McAuliffe spent about 13% of the their budget, or about $3.5 million, online.
If North Carolina Democrats want to win a significant number of legislative seats in 2014, they need to make the electorate younger. There are plenty of reasons for young people to vote, everything from the elimination of the earned income tax credit to cuts to university and community college programs, but using traditional media and GOTV programs to educate and motivate them won’t work. Mass rallies might fire up the faithful and volunteers but they won’t attract significantly more voters by themselves. Television and direct mail may still reach older and likely voters, but not this new generation. For them, communication is no longer a pipeline of information from the campaign. It’s a conversation. North Carolina Democrats would be wise to join it.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >