Democrats’ turnout problems in North Carolina

by | Jan 27, 2017 | 2016 Elections, Editor's Blog, NC Politics | 18 comments

The 2016 election data is in and it’s pretty ugly for North Carolina Democrats. According to data released by Democracy North Carolina yesterday, their turnout in November was down 1.4% from 2012 while Republican turnout was up 2.5%. That’s what they call an enthusiasm gap and it offsets Democrats’ advantage in registration numbers. Even more troubling for Democrats, since 2008, Democrat turnout is down 3.5% while Republican turnout is up 3.8%. That’s an unsustainable trend for Democrats if they want to stay competitive in North Carolina.

More than 75% of registered Republicans voted compared to only 68.5% of registered Democrats. Sixty-three percent of unaffiliated voters showed up, an increase of 2.8% over 2012. Of the Democrats, African-American women were the highest voting block, showing up at 72.2%, but their numbers were down 4.4% from 2012. White Democratic women were the second strongest voting group, with a turnout of 71.6%, a 2.7% increase over 2012 turnout. Democrats’ biggest failure is with African-American men. Only 57% of them voted.

Dr. Michael Bitzer noted that almost 170,000 African-American voters who showed up in 2012 did not vote in 2016. Republicans lost almost as many, 165,000, mostly from urban areas. However, an additional 168,000 white Republican and unaffiliated voters voted in 2016 who were registered in 2012 but didn’t vote then. The Trump surge offset the loss of urban Republicans who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for the GOP presidential nominee.

A debate is raging in the Democratic Party about whether the party needs to reach out to white working class voters or just focus on turning out their base. I would argue that they will only succeed if they do both. The African-American men who stayed home in November aren’t carrying briefcases to work. They’re blue collar voters who don’t believe anybody represents them. They aren’t going to vote for the party that wants to dismantle the progress of the Civil Rights era but they don’t see Democrats as offering them much, either.

Even if those African-American voters had come out this year, they probably wouldn’t have made a significant difference in legislative or Congressional races. To win those seats back, Democrats will need to increase their share of white voters, too. Since they’re already winning college educated voters, it only makes sense that Democrats reach out to working class voters regardless of race.

In the post-World War II era, Democrats became the party of working class voters and the party of Civil Rights. They promoted access to education, worker protections, an increasing minimum wage, and a safety net to ensure that injury or age didn’t push people into poverty. At the same time, they stood up for protection against discrimination and broke down barriers that kept minorities out of the middle class, particularly in the South.

Today, Democrats are still the party that opposes discrimination but they’ve lost their way in helping working class families move up the economic ladder. Many African-American men are less concerned with job discrimination than job opportunities. Particularly in rural areas, Democrats have been no better than Republicans in mitigating the impact of trade agreements and immigration. Like their white counterparts, blue collar African-Americans worry that the influx of Hispanic workers are taking the few jobs still available to people with limited education.

If Democrats want to stay competitive in North Carolina, they’ll need to figure out how to address these concerns. If they do, they can both increase the turnout of African-American men and win over a few of the white working class voters that they’ve lost to Republicans. If they don’t, they’ll see their turnout numbers continue to dwindle and find themselves increasingly in the minority.


  1. Michael Wells

    How come this website is just “Politics NC” and not Democrat Mouthpiece? On day one, you wrote a negative oped on Trump. On day one you wrote a negative oped on McCrory. Where is Roy Cooper’s negative oped? Where is Purdue’s negative oped?

    That is why the democrats are losing. You’re so damn biased anyone that sits in the middle vomits to your bias, and turning BACK civil rights? You democrats have openly allied with ISIS, it’s in their damn recruiting brochures they pass out, “Leftists are our allies, we have the same goals”. Really, same goals? So you want to put all women in hajibs? You want to stone rape victims? You want to execute unfaithful wives? You want to hang homosexuals? Who the hell is turning BACK civil rights? I have yet to see a single republican ally with ISIS or even so much as SUGGEST Sharia Law.

    You lost the black vote because they’re waking up, black men and women poured out in droves to elect Trump. Why? Because they finally realize what planned parenthood is and they finally realized that democrats haven’t done a damn thing for them, ever, except keep them enslaved to a white master or the government.

    Your own leftist bias blinds you to anything not left as being unacceptable when your entire platform is so bloated with crap like I just mentioned that folks like me in the middle run far, FAR away. You claim you’re against terrorism yet you openly engage in AND endorse terrorism — because it’s not terrorism if you do it, right? You can have marches and rallies and beat the hell out of Trump supporters, and, no, that’s not terrorism, it’s just another form of “protest”. YOU ARE TEXTBOOK TERRORISTS.

    Does the truth hurt? Want to delete this? That’s why you’re losing.

    • Troy

      Shalom and God Bless You too, Michael.

      I’m so glad to know that about you. That you are so unbiased and open minded as to accept at face value what is supposedly printed in ISIS recruitment brochures and then come here and launch into an unbiased and seething little diatribe of your very own.

      By the by, if you have one of those brochures laying around not doing anything, I’d certainly like to see it. Not a link, the actual brochure. Scan it and e-mail it to Mills. I’m sure he’d post it here in the interest of clarity.

      • TY Thompson

        He does have a point about the evolved one-sidedness of this site given the unbalanced ratio of Mills to Wynne posts, but yeah, the extremism, nastiness, and lack of reasoned thought can cut both ways….it just seems like it’s the progressive responses that owns those traits because there are so many more of them.

        • Troy

          A singular point of view TY. Of course, all points of view are singular. Given the perspective of your writings of late however, I understand your taking that stance.

          It is Thomas Mills’ site. So to that end, he can set the tone as he sees fit. I think it is tremendously generous of him that, as far as I know, he has yet to delete posts, even ones that were showed to be written by someone obnoxious enough as to moniker themselves’ “Fuck You” if you care to recall that person posting on one thread contemporaneous to the election. Wynne is a contributor and given what he has taken on (Wake Law School 1L) he hardly has time to offer any sort measured or thoughtful response. So despite the myriad snarkiness from many, myself included at times, I find the tolerance of Mr. Mills to be quite ethereal.

          You perhaps don’t think so, but right now people are venting. They are venting frustration and angst and their fear. True fear, when it does exist, lives in the unknown. Right now there’s enough unknown to fill an Exxon supertanker.

          Those that come here to “offer counter argument and conservative perspectives” rarely do so and only stir the pot of mistrust, suspicion, and anger. If anything it only serves to harden that resolve and feed that fear. Some, admittedly, do it on purpose; just to wind the crank. Some do it in a magnificent display of ignorance and misunderstanding. And of course some do it as genuine and true believers of their conservatism.

          Lets face it, in light of the new revelation of “alternative facts”, no one is ever going to be convinced by the other side; no matter how rational, how well cited, proven, or backed up by facts; real or “alternative” their argument is. We each believe what we believe. A position that has been developed over time from when we very first began listening or taking an interest in what is going on in the State, Country, and World. As Tip O’Neil stated, “you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

          Many however have no opinion or care of what is going on in the State, Country, or World until something affects them directly. And of course, they typically are single or hot topic issue voters…since they do vote. The problem, far reaching, is that single issue voters generate a skewed representation and an ill adaptive government. And yes, that can go with the pendulum swing as well.

          That’s my opinion.

  2. David Beck

    Why no mention of Dem white male turnout statistics?

    • christopher Lizak

      In western NC they split their ballot – voting for both Trump and for Roy Cooper.

  3. Jim Bartow

    I worry about statistics that have voter registration in the denominator. With voter registration drives ramping up since 2008, there are a lot of moved voters in the NC voter registration database.

  4. Sylvia

    If the Democrats would have listened to the majority and supported Bernie Sanders the turnout woul have been much different, and we would not have the embarrassment of a president we now have!!! Im done giving money to people that are indebted to big business.

    • Stephen Lewis, Sr.

      Who is the majority. More Democrats voted for Hillary then Bernie, particularly among registered Democrats. It was the black community who gave Hillary her vast majority are you saying they were wrong, or are you saying the delegates should have cast there votes for Bernie any way.

      • TY Thompson

        I doubt she’s blaming the “black community” and she’s really referring to the corrupt DNC who were exposed for putting their thumb on the scales for Clinton. Had the DNC been truly neutral, who knows how the primary would have turned out?
        On another note, a lot of cross-currents in this election that muddied the waters a bit. Some constituencies lashed out at the ballot box for having their concerns ignored. McCrory saw a lot of former supporters desert him over everything from the Confederate flag to the livelihood of commercial fishermen, to toll roads (a big one).
        A large chunk of Labor dumped Clinton over TPP and Dems in general for failure to pass card check when they had the opportunity. A whole lot of grievances aired in this past election.

        • Stephen Lewis, sr

          I had my own reservations with card check but electing trump is not going to help it. As for the scales I am not sure what else could have been done. A man who has never been a democrat, it Sandes was an uphill fight in the primary to begin with

  5. Stephen Lewis, Sr.

    Interesting points. In my many years of volunteering in the political process I can say that trying to motivate people to vote is one of the most difficult things to do. Neither parties nor individual campaigns are going to spend much time doing it resources are limited, having said that making voting access easier has help increase voting to certain degree and this has by in large helped Democrats. Also as you mentioned people do pay attention to there economic view points more than we realize. Many in the white community, I have caught myself doing this as well, tend to overvalue symbolic. As a black co-worker of mine recently pointed out “taking down the confederate flag in Columbia does very little to improving my life”. I am not saying he did not want it come down, just now that its down nothing much changes.

    During Bill Clinton’s second term the economy was a vibrant as it was in my lifetime, both the black and white working class were extremely pleased with life, it had very little to do with flags, guns, law enforcement, gay rights, abortion or any others of those sidebar issues. Most voters are most happy when job market is flush and we are at peace. I think we Democrats missed the boat when we did not make this election about getting back that the late nineties. Even though our candidate was the spouse of who Presided the country then it was as if it never happened.

  6. Vincent Kopp

    Looks like voter suppression takes multiple forms: self-suppression, issue-suppression, systemic suppression. Solutions? First, get out the vote. Second, give folks someone to vote for who feels their issues. Third, work for just districts where votes actually matter.
    In addition, ramp up registration. That way, if percentages hold, the actual number of votes cast goes up, even if the percentage of non-voting registered voters shifts. Elections are won on vote numbers not percentages. Next, put political messages where folks can hear and see them. Teach them taxes equal services, regulations save lives and make businesses accountable, and jobs come from a private sector that doesn’t have a very good track record when it comes to looking after community interests. How many Dem messages that say such things do you hear on Country radio, see on billboards, or watch on barbershop and hair salon TVs? Finally, Dems need to talk to each other, learn to like each other, and accept that politics is less about purity than wrestling down a pig.

  7. willard cottrell

    THE problem is a lack of UNIFIED MESSAGE. Let’s face it, The dems have become rethug lite. Elizabeth Wareen voting FOR Ben Carson???!!!! Sherrod Brown too. Not on the same page for blocking Isreali settlements? Hagen running away from ObamaCare, most elected officials running away from it and not explaining a program that helps OUR constituents and persuades the other side to change. Dems who want to run the DNC but don’t appear at the women’s March sat????!!!!!! Our first big reaction to Agent Orange and they go to a ‘donors’ confab.
    I’ve been a dem for 55+ yrs and this sorry bunch of weak backbones will get us nowhere. If we (grass roots) continue to support their pusillanimous records with the first 6 days of Agent Orange – there is no way we’ll ever recover. I am done CONTRIBUTING to any of them – including Warren

  8. Christopher Lizak

    So are you saying that the solution to our turnout problem is to insult those who don’t vote and try and shame them into voting for us? Do you really think they will respond favorably to being called lazy?

    Or are you saying that the problem is insurmountable and that we should just try and stay out of the way and accept what is handed to us?

    I feel your pain, but what is your solution to the turnout problem?

    • Christopher Lizak

      Yes, we wish to increase the number of people who take voting seriously.

      Our recent efforts as a Party have resulted in fewer people taking the right to vote seriously, than has been the case in the past.

      What should we do differently to reduce the number of people who choose to stay home? Because we have to have at least some of them to win.

      • Christopher Lizak

        Democrats have had control of all branches of government before, and they won’t enact #1 or #2 either.

        Why is that?

  9. Christopher Lizak

    Excellent analysis, Thomas.

    The key for the Democratic Party is to focus on those issues that resonate with African-American men AND working class Whites. Rural white people feel just as abused by the cops as do urban minorities. Focus on the issues within law enforcement reform that affect both groups. This can be applied too any number of winning issues, including living wages, infrastructure improvement, etc, etc

    We must focus on those issues that unite the 99%, and not on issues that divide the 99% on behalf of the 1%.

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