The Hagan campaign must be happy, if not a bit nervous, about where they are right now. All of the polls in the final week had her up by at least a point. The make up of the electorate looks a lot more like 2012 than 2010 and her GOTV operation seems to be working at full steam.
At the end of the in-person early voting period, Democrats held a 48-32 advantage over Republicans in turnout. The unaffiliated voters made up 20% of the voters. One third of unaffiliated voters and a quarter of the Democrats who voted did not vote in 2010. In contrast, only 20% of the Republicans did not vote in 2010. I believe the vast majority of those new unaffiliated voters are part of the Democratic GOTV machine.
In addition, African-American voters make up 25% of the early voters and “other” makes up 3%. In 2010, African-Americans made up around 21% and “other” less than 1%. Women make up a larger proportion of the early vote this year than four years ago and the gender gap seems much wider.
That’s the good news for the Democrats. They probably hold a substantial lead going into Election Day and their GOTV machine seems to be working well.
As one analyst noted, the raw number of early votes was up 20% over 2010. However, in terms of percentage of registered voters, turnout was only up 2%. In 2010, 15.5% of registered voters voted early while 17.4% have voted early this year. This number could increase to 17.7% when all provisional and mail-in ballots are counted, but it’s not a dramatic increase over four years ago. Overall turnout will likely still be below 50% of registered voters this year.
At this point in 2010, 35% of all votes had been cast. Democrats held a 9 point margin over Republicans and the unaffiliated voters who made up 17% of the early voters had broken hard for Republicans. In 2012, when Democrats held a 17 point advantage over Republicans, over half the votes had been cast. And Democrats still lost.
That’s the good news for Republicans. Their folks show up in larger numbers on Election Day and if voters’ attitudes have remained the same, they could be in position to steal a win. That’s a big if, though, considering the approval rating of the General Assembly that Tillis leads.
Democrats need to hope that the polls are right and that Hagan is holding a narrow lead. But as an astute friend pointed out, Hagan will probably need to reach 48% of the vote to win. So far, only one poll, CNN/Opinion Research, has her reaching that threshold, though a PPP poll and Rasmussen both had her at 47% and leading Tillis by 1%. This scenario assumes Libertarian Sean Haugh picks up 5% of the vote. If it gets much below that, Hagan may struggle.
Republicans, for their part, need to show that they have a same-day turnout operation that trumps the Democrats’ program. They also need to hope that their right flank sets aside their anger at Tillis and doesn’t either stay home or cast protest votes. If Haugh is drawing 5% of the vote, Tillis is probably toast.
I still think Hagan has the advantage. Her campaign has been more disciplined and they’ve won the argument most of the time. Regardless, the national environment has continued to deteriorate throughout October, making the race much closer now than it’s been since the summer.
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 >