I’m going to beat my dead horse more today. The News & Observer breaks down the turnout in the 2020 elections and it’s obvious that the only thing that should matter to Democrats is turnout. They underperformed Republicans by seven points. Until that gap closes, nothing else matters.
According to the data, overall turnout was 75%, the highest level in decades. Republicans turned out at 82%, Democrats at 75%, and unaffiliated voters at 70%. All of these numbers reflect a highly motivated electorate and blow away any recent turnout numbers, but the GOP is clearly connecting with their base better. As long as gaps like this one persist, Democrats will have a difficult time winning the state.
The modern Democratic coalition consists primarily of urban dwellers, young people, and African Americans. Among African Americans, turnout was 68%, up four percent from 2016 but still seven percent lower than the electorate as a whole and 10% less than White voters. Among voters under 40 years old, only 63% showed up to vote. In contrast, about 83% of people over 40 voted. These gaps explain why Biden failed to capture the state.
In urban counties that delivered for Democrats, high turnout made the difference, but Republicans still outpaced Democrats. In Mecklenburg, Republican turnout was four points higher than Democrats’ turnout and the county trailed the state as a whole by about four points. In Wake, Republicans turned out at a two percent higher rate. In only a very few counties, Buncombe, Watauga, Orange, Dare, Chatham, and a handful of much smaller rural counties, did Democrats keep pace with Republicans.
To win in North Carolina, Democrats need to either increase turnout among their base or persuade more White voters, especially in rural counties, to vote for them. They’ve been trying to persuade those voters unsuccessfully for a long time. It’s time they turn their attention to the people who aren’t voting. They need to understand why they aren’t voting and how to motivate them. This requires more than a field operation that begins in the spring or summer of an election year. It requires a long-term investment and some patience.
In 2018, Democrats did fairly well in the state because of a motivated electorate on their side and depressed one on the other side. Dems came out in a symbolic rebuke of Trump, but Republicans stayed home because he wasn’t on the ticket. In 2022, Trump won’t be on the in the White House to motivate Democrats or Republicans. Instead, the year will be more of a referendum on Biden’s first two years. Republicans may be more motivated than Democrats.
Democrats need to connect with voters on a deeper level than TV ads. Hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising is not going to work. It hasn’t in a long time, but the party keeps trying. It’s time to try something different. They need a long-term strategy that engages people and turns them into voters. We know who those voters are. Now, Democrats need to reach out to them.
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 >