Lessons for North Carolina Democrats from the 2022 electorate

by | Dec 7, 2022 | Editor's Blog | 9 comments

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. 


  1. Wray

    I did not see going into this past failed election for NC Democrats an aggressive strategy to win and I said so to the entire NC Democratic Party leadership in Raleigh, but was blown off by patronizing statements. The entire leadership should step down and let a new generation of younger hungrier leaders step up to the plate. I am tired of losing races we should be winning!

  2. Borden Austin

    Cheri ran as if she was running for the Supreme Court again. Which was a mistake. She should have run a National Campaign based on National Issues such as Abortion and Trump. Budd had no problem posting Trump’s endorsement on his web site. She could have made Budd and Trump the issue not her Court rulings. Also, her website looked old and out of date. Budd’s was very polished and professional looking.

  3. Carolyn B Guckert

    As much as we need another black woman in the Senate, I still think Jeff Jackson was the candidate who should have taken on Budd. He is dynamic and works in a focused way to reach voters. I believe his enthusiasm would have motivated many young voters to go vote. I’m thrilled he won his congressional race, but I worry how tough it will be for him to keep the seat when the Republicans redo the maps.

    Until you can ensure a strong turnout by the black electorate, the rural white vote will prevail when a black Dem runs. Dems have got to figure this out.

  4. Mike Leonard

    Ted Budd is proof that in a former Confederate state, a white male stands a much better chance of getting elected than a non-white person. Maybe that will change in 50 years.

  5. Naomi Lambert

    Cheri seemed an ideal candidate for the US Senate seat but even she couldn’t get African-American voters enthused. It looked to me like Charlotte turnout lagged and that we have a big GOTV problem in Eastern NC.

  6. Mike Nelson

    Your conclusion that organizing needs to take place now is spot on. The problem is that no one is doing that work in NC. In both AZ and GA, outside organizers – outside of the Democratic Party, that is – spent years communicating with voters, knocking on doors, listening, registering voters, building election machines. NC doesn’t have a Stacey Abrams (GA) or the young Latinos and Union folks (AZ) doing that work. My fear is that no org will step up in NC and we’ll be stuck with another decade of below average results. If someone like Josh Stein wants to get elected Governor in NC in 2024, they’ll have to build the organization to do so themselves. They can’t rely on the hacks inside the Democratic Party.

    In 2022, states that organized did well; states that didn’t, didn’t.

    • Bill Turnier

      Mike Nelson, you hit the nail on the head.

  7. Leonard Prosnitz

    You dont mention negative campaigning which is central to the Republican message and seems to be effective. I think we democrats need to do more of it. Was Cheri Beasley too nice a candidate? Why the low black turnout with her at the head of the ticket?

  8. Ed Harrison

    When you refer to nominating a “centrist candidate”, to which 2024 race(s) are you referring?

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