The country has been in a cycle of wave elections since 2006. The only exception was 2012. However, while a GOP wave hit the rest of the nation in 2014, it missed North Carolina. Turnout in the state was normal for an off-year election and while Kay Hagan narrowly lost, Democrats added seats in the General Assembly. This year, North Carolina may be headed for a wave despite what happens in the rest of the country.

Waves happen because voter turnout on one side is motivated while the other is depressed. Early signs show just such a pattern in North Carolina. Dr. Michael Bitzer of Catawba College has been tracking the mail-in absentee ballots in North Carolina and the trend is ominous for Republicans. (If you’re not following Dr. Bitzer, why the hell not!?)

Republicans have always dominated mail-in absentee voting in North Carolina. The state makes it somewhat cumbersome and many of the people who participate are more upscale voters who know they will be out of town around the election. They are the country club Republicans who are also more educated than much of the GOP base.

At this point in the cycle, Democrats lead the Republicans in the number of ballots accepted by the Board of Elections. According to Bitzer, Democrat and Independent ballots accepted are up more than 15% over 2012. Republican ballots accepted are down more than 40%.

The uptick in Democratic and unaffiliated ballots indicate an organizational effort to increase participation in this method voting. The sharp Republican decline, though, reflects a depressed electorate. These are the voters that polls across the nation have suggested might take a pass on Trump.

Once again, North Carolina could forge its own path during the election. Like 2014, state issues are affecting the election as much as national ones. The loss of the NBA All-star game, the NCAA and ACC tournaments and numerous other business opportunities due to HB2 has soured voters on the GOP in the state. A stronger governor might provide a buffer from a Trump collapse, but McCrory is giving Republicans little reason to go to the polls. Republican Senator Richard Burr has built a career by staying largely undefined so his campaign won’t give voters a big incentive to protect him, either.

We still have more than month to go and the mail-in ballots could take a big turn but if the trend continues, it probably spells bad news for the GOP. Same-day early voting starts on October 20 and we’ll see if Republican turnout stays depressed. If it does, Democrats up and down the ballot in North Carolina will likely have a good night on November 8.

Graph: Credit Dr. Michael Bitzer, Catawba College


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