Democratic turnout in primaries continued to surge last night. In New York, voters turned out in much greater numbers than they have in previous midterms. Twice as many voted yesterday than they did four years ago.
In North Carolina, early absentee ballot requests indicate enthusiasm for Democrats. According to Gerry Cohen, more than 12,000 absentee ballots have been requested, mostly from voters in the military and overseas. Of those 46% are Democrats, 30% are unaffiliated and 24% are Republican. Mail-in absentee ballots traditionally have favored Republicans and with more than seven weeks to go they still might. However, at this point, Democrats are showing unusual motivation to vote.
According to Dr. Michael Bitzer, North Carolina just topped 7 million voters. Of those, 38% registered as Democrats, 30% as Republicans, 31% as unaffiliated and less than 1% as a third party like Libertarian.
In 2010 and 2014, over half of registered Republicans voted as opposed to 44% and 46%, respectively, for Democrats. Unaffiliated voters voted at much lower levels. In 2006, the last Blue Moon, Democrats and Republicans both voted at 40% and Democrats had a very good year. If Democrats keep pace with Republicans in turnout, 2018 will be a very good year for Democrats in North Carolina.
Poll after poll indicates that both parties are consolidating their bases. In other words, not many partisans are up for grabs anymore. The Reagan Democrats are going extinct. The main swing voters are unaffiliated voters. This year, they appear to be breaking for Democrats.
That said, Democrats are increasingly concentrated in urban areas. So are unaffiliated voters. We might see a big turnout boost margins for Democrats in urban/suburban districts while having relatively little effect on rural ones. That’s where gerrymandering makes up the GOP seawall.
Polling this midterm could be difficult. Likely voter screens are built primarily from vote history. In 2010 and 2014, the last two midterms, Democrats essentially sat out the elections. Screens that reflect the turnouts from those two elections might be under-representing Democrats and/or Democratic-leaning unaffiliated voters. For instance, the Civitas poll of the 2ndCongressional District showed Republicans making up two percent more of the electorate than Democrats, even though Democrats have about 1% advantage in registration. The screen probably represents expected turnout in a normal election year well, but doesn’t pick up the enthusiasm that might be brewing.
If Democrats vote at the same level as Republicans and unaffiliated voters break evenly, Democrats will have good night on November 6. If Democratic turnout exceeds Republican turnout and unaffiliated voters break heavily for them, they could have a great night.
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 >