This year’s political environment feels as volatile as any I remember. Last spring, the year looked to be a historic red wave about to wash Democrats out of office up and down the ballot as party infighting paralyzed the legislative process. By summer, the dynamic had shifted with the passage of significant legislation, including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, bipartisan gun control legislation, the bipartisan CHIPS Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade seemed to energize the Democratic base, especially younger women. By the beginning of October, inflation and rising interest rates dominated the conversation as the midterm elections began their final stretch, dampening some the earlier Democratic enthusiasm. As we head into the final days of the election, good economic news seems to be helping Democrats in the closing days.    

I’m past the point of trying to predict outcomes. By nature, I’m pessimistic, especially about North Carolina. I’ve been disappointed too many times. 

Polls both in North Carolina and across the country seem to be all over the place. I’ve seen several that give Republicans an edge in the Congressional ballot. I’ve seen others that favor Democrats. In North Carolina, some surveys have the race for U.S. Senate tied. Others have Budd slightly up. Still others give Beasley the lead. 

Looking at the early voting trends gives me the best idea of what is happening. Right now, the year looks tough for Democrats, but a lot could change before early voting ends. So far, the electorate is considerably older and whiter than it was in 2018. There about 2,000 more seventy-year old voters this year than in 2018 and there about 2,000 fewer 35 year old voters than this year than 2018. The gender gap seems to be about the same. 

Of equal concern, African American turnout trails this point in the 2018 cycle by about two percentage points. In 2018, Black voters made up a little over 20% of the total and this year they are at only 18.5%. Republicans also make up about 31% of the voters so far this year, improving on their 2018 turnout at this point in the election by about a point. Democrats are behind their turnout numbers by four percent, making up only 39% this year and 43% in 2018. 

The unaffiliated voters are always the great unknown. While they are slightly older this year than they were in 2018, the racial and gender compositions are about the same at this point in both cycles. In 2018, younger unaffiliated voters helped Democrats.

A lot could change over the next week and a day of early voting, but, right now, Republicans seem to have the advantage. Historically, they win election day, so Democrats need to bank a lot of votes in the early voting period. If that trend holds, the Democratic GOTV effort needs get moving quickly. 

The political environment feels fairly even, so independent voters may split their vote enough to prevent a huge wave. Democrats need to take advantage of that factor and focus on getting people to the polls. Michael Bloomberg just gave the state Democratic Party $1 million so he must see an opportunity. It’s all over but the votin’ now. 

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