Once again, North Carolina will be in the national spotlight during the 2014 election cycle. Republicans need to pick up Kay Hagan’s seat if they hope to capture the U.S. Senate and the state is among the most competitive in the nation. The political environment may be difficult to predict a year out, but an analysis of the likely electorate is not.
Voters are generally creatures of habit. Short of exceptional circumstances, we can predict their behavior fairly reliably. Some people only vote in presidential years while others are prone to vote in every even year. Those numbers can be changed through campaign or activists programs, but those are expensive and more often show up in theory instead of practice.
That said, in the 2014 general election, North Carolina can expect a turnout of about 45%, or just over 2.9 million voters. That’s slightly higher than 2010, but dramatically less than than either 2008 or 2012 when almost 70% of the registered voters trekked to the polls. I’m attributing the uptick to what will likely be massive amounts of money poured into the state by both sides of the Senate race and in legislative contests.
In registration, Democrats will have an advantage of 44% to 37% over Republicans but unaffiliated voters will make up about 20%. Historically, large numbers of white Democrats in rural areas, particularly down east, have voted Republican. And while the unaffiliated voters lean more conservative, they voted for Democrats in both 2006 and 2008. As the state becomes more urban and younger voters increasingly reject party labels, those unaffiliated voters may be more up for grabs than in the past.
As always, race will play an important factor. My model predicts a 19% African-American turnout, but that number may be a little low. In 2010, African-American voters made up slightly more than 20% of the electorate. White voters will make up 78% of the electorate and Latino voters will still only vote at about 1%. At some point Latino voters will begin to make up a more significant portion of the electorate but I would guess that happens a little later and during a presidential year. Native Americans and other races will comprise another 2% or so of the electorate.
Women could play a major role in the electorate. Nationally, Republicans have seemed unsympathetic to issues important to women, but in North Carolina, the Republican-controlled general assembly seemed to treat them as the enemy. They will make up almost 55% of the voters and if the animosity that was evident last summer spills into the 2014 cycle, the GOP could be in trouble.
Finally, the electorate in off-years is older. My model says 62% of the voters will be over 50 years old and only 6% will be under 30. If those figures hold, that’s probably good for the GOP.
For Kay Hagan to win, she needs to hold a larger segment of white Democrats while increasing the turnout of minority and younger voters. After the Republican attacks on voting rights, education and women’s health issues, that’s not a tall order. Her biggest threat to re-election right now is the national political climate.
For the Republican nominee to win, he’ll have to repair the damage done with women voters. Since Thom Tillis was speaker when the damage was done, he’ll have his work cut out for him if he’s the nominee. Both sides will need to convince the fickle and relatively moderate unaffiliated voters. I don’t think women will come back to an anti-gay, ardently pro-life preacher and I don’t believe unaffiliated voters will support a Tea Partier. Hence, Tillis is the only viable GOP general election candidate and he will somehow have to convince voters that he’s not the same guy who oversaw the legislative debacle last summer.
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 >