Democrats in North Carolina can learn a lot from the 2022 midterm election. Turnout offers insight into what they need to do to be more competitive in the state. The Georgia election results can guide them on the type of candidates and messages needed to win in a state with a large rural population. The information should make them hopeful for 2024, especially if they come away with the right lessons.
With the certification of the votes last week, the North Carolina voter file was updated to reflect the participants in the 2022 midterm. Analysts dug into the numbers to give a profile of the electorate. Overall, it was older, whiter, and more Republican than 2020. In other words, it looked like a pretty typical North Carolina midterm.
According to an analysis by Dr. Michael Bitzer at Old North State Politics blog, the overall turnout was 51% of registered voters. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans voted compared to only 51% of Democrats. Forty-five percent of unaffiliated voters showed up at the polls.
In a bad sign for Democrats, African Americans made up the lowest portion of the electorate, 17%, since Obama’s 2008 win in the state. Only 42% of registered African Americans showed up, well below the overall turnout of 51%. African American vote share has been shrinking since Obama left office, so Democrats need to seriously address this trend since more than 90% of these voters support Democrats.
In other bad, but not surprising, news for Democrats, younger voters stayed home. More than two-thirds of voters under 40 years old didn’t bother to vote. That compares to the more than two-thirds of voters over 58 who DID show up. Older white voters are part of the GOP base while younger voters are essential for Democrats to win.
On the bright side for Democrats, as bad as the electorate was, Cheri Beasley only lost by three points to Ted Budd. According to a CNN exit poll, Beasley won swing voters by six percent. She won younger voters by as large a margin as Budd won older voters. As younger voters age, they vote more consistently are continuing to vote Democratic. Older voters, of course, are dying. The long-term future for Democrats in North Carolina is bright, but in the short-term, Democrats need to spend far more time understanding and motivating their base.
In winning the independent voters, Beasley also showed that Democrats had the right message. She took a moderate approach, focusing more on kitchen table issues than social concerns. Raphael Warnock’s win in Georgia reinforces the more inclusive, moderate message as part of the winning formula. I suspect he also won independent voters handily last night. The Obama-Trump voters in states like North Carolina and Georgia have probably returned the Democratic fold, at least for now.
While 2022 was more difficult for North Carolina Democrats than Democrats across the country, the election also should give Democrats hope, particularly heading into 2024. Younger voters will turnout in much larger numbers in the presidential year. African American voters will likely do the same. If Democrats can continue hold the more moderate independent voters, they have a clear path to victory in the state, at least in statewide elections.
In the 2024 governor’s race here, Republicans seem poised to nominate Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson. Robinson is more similar to Herschel Walker or Marjorie Taylor Green than Ted Budd. He’s a bombastic extremist who revels in anti-LGBT+ rhetoric, has paid for an abortion despite his pro-life stance, and has flirted with antisemitism. Those are the candidates that the middle is rejecting even if the GOP base is not.
Democrats need to nominate a centrist candidate who can motivate younger voters. They need to spend money on research to better understand why Black voter participation is declining. And they need to start organizing now, registering voters and having deeper conversations about people’s priorities, hopes, and dreams. The 2022 election offers them the information to be successful moving forward. They need to use it sooner than later.