For Democrats in North Carolina, 2023 needs to be a building year. Nationally, the party exceeded expectations, adding to its majority in the U.S. Senate and keeping their loss of the House to single digits. Here, Republicans gained a veto-proof majority in the state senate and are one seat shy of one in the house. Republican also swept the seats for Supreme Court, giving them a majority. 

A recent series by WFAE looks at why Democrats seem to struggle in North Carolina. In a nutshell, they struggle with turning out their base in urban areas, they’re losing rural areas by increasing margins, and the retirees moving into the state are voting Republican. There’s no single solution to their problem, in part, because of the diversity of the state. 

North Carolina is unlike its neighbors to the north and south that are trending blue. Virginia and Georgia have much larger and dominant urban centers than North Carolina where about 40% of the population is still rural. Georgia also has a population that is almost a third African American while North Carolina’s population is only 22% African American. 

In 2022, the Democratic base in North Carolina did not come out like the Republican base. African Americans made up only 17% of the electorate, their smallest share of the electorate since before Obama won here in 2008. White voters made up 73% of the electorate despite making up on 64% of registered voters.

African Americans decreased turnout across the board. Women voted at eight percent less than in 2018. Men voted at 4.5% less. The drop occurred in rural counties and urban counties. The party needs to understand why that happened with an African American woman leading the ticket.

In addition, voters 18 to 40 years old who comprise a substantial portion of the Democratic base made up less than 25% of the electorate despite making 39% of the registered voters. In contrast, baby boomers made up 39% of the 2022 voters despite making up on 28% of the registration. If Democrats are going to win in North Carolina in midterm elections, they must address this disparity. 

As the WFAE series points out, Republicans won all ten of the state’s fastest growing counties, most by more than 20 points. Half of those counties are along the coast and add Moore to the mix and most of those new arrivals are likely retirees. They don’t won’t to pay taxes and they don’t care much about our schools or cities. They’re also older and they vote. Democrats probably don’t have a great opportunity to gain vote share from these folks so they need to figure out how to offset them in upcoming elections. 

The newcomers coming to the Triangle, Triad, and Metrolina are mostly younger folks or families moving here for jobs and opportunities. They are probably more diverse than the predominantly white retirees settling into the coast. Democrats need to welcome them to the state and better understand their desires for the future. They almost certainly want better schools and educational opportunities and the party needs to figure out what they envision instead of promoting a status quo agenda. 

In this quickly changing state, Democrats need to better understand the various constituencies that are emerging. They’ve largely lost rural White voters and won’t likely get them back since the Democratic coalition depends upon diversity. They will have a difficult time attracting retirees who care little about their priorities like better public schools or Medicaid expansion. To counter these constituencies, Democrats must figure out how to motivate their base voters, mainly younger people and African Americans. There needs to be a serious investment in listening and organizing. That’s their job in 2023.  

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