A first look at 2020 turnout in NC

by | Dec 30, 2020 | 2020 elections, Editor's Blog | 1 comment

A twitter feed run by a conservative numbers guy is out with an early look at the numbers from the 2020 election. In a year with record turnout, Republicans outpaced Democrats and unaffiliated voters. GOP turnout was a staggering 81%. In contrast, Democrats voted at 75% and unaffiliated voters showed up at 71%. All of those percentages exceeded 2016’s overall turnout of 69%. 

In terms of raw votes, registered Democrats cast about 2 million votes, Republicans slightly more than 1.8 million votes, and unaffiliated voters slightly less than 1.8 million. These numbers don’t, however, tell us how those voters voted. Older white rural Democrats, in particular, are less loyal to the party and have a long history of voting for Republicans, especially at the federal level. A lot of the unaffiliated voters are really swingy and seem to be trending Democratic. 

In the coming years, Democrats will continue to see their share of registration shrink as the old Jessiecrats die off. They will likely be replaced by younger unaffiliated voters, most of whom are voting Democratic at this point. The transition, though, will take a lot longer than some imagined. The youngest of those Republican-voting Democrats are in their early sixties and people seem to be living into their 90s these days. That’s a long, slow transition.

The unaffiliated voters have been steadily shifting toward Democrats for the past decade or so. When unaffiliated voters first started growing in significant numbers in North Carolina, they were largely Jessiecrats transitioning to Republican as the one-party South evolved into a true two-party system. Today, they are mixed bag. In rural areas, they tend to be more conservative, reliably Republican voters. In urban/suburban areas, they are more likely to be younger and vote more Democratic. And some are truly independent swing voters who don’t have much use for either party. 

A rough estimate indicates that those unaffiliated voters broke fairly close to even in 2020 and may have even favored Democrats slightly. That’s good news for Democrats in the long run. They have been breaking fairly solidly for Republicans for the past 20 years.  

However, none of these numbers is predictive. The high turnout was driven largely by Trump, with partisans voting enthusiastically either for him or against him. He won’t be on the ballot again. The real question is which of these voters stays engaged in 2022 and beyond.

In 2018, the Trumpers did not vote, but the younger, more liberal unaffiliated voters did. They delivered the House of Representatives to Democrats nationally and helped Democrats break veto-proof majorities in the legislature here in North Carolina. We won’t know what are trends and what were moments in this election until we see the results of cycles in the future. 

1 Comment

  1. Cathy

    Some of us Rural unaffiliated voters a Democrats that want a say in local politics (so we can vote for a more moderate republican county Commissioner, for instance – since the republican will win the general election in our county.

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