North Carolina is still purple

by | Nov 16, 2022 | Editor's Blog | 13 comments

Republicans in North Carolina are crowing that the election results show that the state is trending red. Don’t believe them. Nothing really changed outside of district lines. The state is still a swing state that tilts toward the GOP. Ted Budd may have won the state, but Democrat Wiley Nickel won the state’s only competitive Congressional race in a district that leans Republican. In higher turnout years, Democrats will do better like they always do. 

House Speaker Tim Moore wants to credit Republican policies for their success in legislative races last Tuesday. He claims that all of the GOP’s economic policies are attracting people to the state, but North Carolina grew faster in the first decade of the 21st century when it was under Democratic control than it has in the second decade when Republicans controlled the legislature. In addition, companies like Apple decided to move here in spite of the GOP. Had Republican Pat McCrory won re-election in 2016, GOP social policies would have almost certainly kept them away. 

In addition, those new residents are the ones keeping North Carolina from becoming a heavily red state. In urban counties with high growth, Democrats have increased their margins over the past decade and cut their deficit in quickly growing suburban counties. Republicans, in contrast, are seeing their margins growing in aging counties where the population is in decline. The GOP can still do well in low-turnout years like this one, but they will have a hard time keeping the momentum in higher turnout years in the future.

This year, Republicans benefited from depressed turnout by the Democratic base. I suspect when the numbers are all in, they will show young people significantly underperformed 2018 and African American voters had the lowest turnout since before Barack Obama won the state in 2008. Overall, turnout was below 2018 by more than two percent despite a Senate race this year and a Blue Moon election four years ago. 

Some of the blame for the low turnout has to lie with the top of the ticket. While Cheri Beasley ran a competent campaign, raising the money to be competitive and keeping the race close until the fall, she failed to engage and motivate the base. She ran a cautious campaign in a year when she needed to take risks, either coming out more forcefully for some of her more controversial positions like legalizing marijuana or taking much harder jabs at Budd down the stretch. According to exit polls, her sensible policy positions won over independent voters by six points, but she still lost because Republican turnout substantially beat Democratic turnout. 

But it’s not all Beasley’s fault. Democrats have built a coalition dependent on unreliable voters. Voters under 40 years old come out for presidential campaigns, but vote at much lower numbers during midterm elections. The Republican base is made up of older people who vote much more frequently. 

The election showed that White voters in rural areas are continuing to shift toward Republicans but voters in high growth areas like Durham and Orange Counties are voting even more heavily for Democrats. For Democrats to stay competitive in the state, they need to give younger voters both something to vote for and something to vote against. If Republicans keep nominating Donald Trump for president and candidates like Dan Forest or Mark Robinson for governor, Democrats will continue to win at the statewide level in presidential years. The state is really not shifting much. It’s maintaining its deep purple hue. 


  1. 1966744lw

    I beg to differ; NC is not Purple. Instead, it is Blue in the Urban areas and BRIGHT RED in the rural areas where I live. A Democrat cannot get elected as dog catcher, much less leadership. This portends a NC that continues to head south. Think SC, MS, AR,……

  2. Ruth Bromer

    One thing not mentioned is the low turnout in Mecklenburg County which is a Blue area. And why is this always the case?

    • Eleanor Kinnaird

      Beasley was never a good candidate and the Dems should have chosen Jeff Jackson. If Dems had realized that Mark Robinson was elected over a Black experienced woman, they should have seen Beasely couldn’t over a gun candidate.

  3. Keith P.

    I have a mixed view on what hue North Carolina is. On a presidential level, they may be purple, but after this election, North Carolina will be solidly red. With the state’s Supreme Court now in republican hands, they will (as one write mentioned above) make sure that republican policies will be the law of the North Carolina land. The republicans will make voting restrictions even tighter for democrats for 2024. I’m afraid that North Carolina will be a red state for at least a decade or two.

  4. Dallas Woodhouse

    Again, I think Thomas has this exactly right. The 2022 election results in NC were simply a result of the party controling the White House losing 2-5 points in this particular election. There was no magic formula for Beasley. Both her and Budd were basically generic candidates and went with the trends.

  5. CJE

    I agree wtih Sasha and dvs lib. CB ran a great race, but needed GAZILLIONS more $ to compete with TV and mailers. Think I got one every day for 4 weeks. GOP played the Willie Horton card and won. Don’t blame this on POC. Us white folks got to step up.

    • Morris

      Huh? Beasley outspent Budd 3 to 1 or 4 to 1 (depending on which report you read).

  6. Carolyn B Guckert

    Like Uncle Grumpy above, I am likewise terrified of how the newly majority Republican Supreme Ct will rubberstamp highly gerrymandered maps (here we go again in court … pull out your pocketbooks, taxpayers) and also will overturn the Leandro ruling.
    And it is extremely disappointing that the black community didn’t turn out in forceful numbers for Beasley, one of their own. We should have won that race.
    I am comforted by Thomas’s column here, however, as I have been complaining that NC is now red. Maybe it ain’t so!

    • Karen

      Well, if you don’t like it you can always move to NY or California which are super liberal!

  7. Peter Harkins

    A reasoned analysis, as always.
    But I fear the success of my Republican friends across the judiciary races is likely to have lasting effects, and regrettably regressive, through the remainder of this decade.

    Uncle Grumpy

  8. Charles L

    It’s unbelievable that Black voters appear to have been lackadaisical with a real shot at NC’s first AA Senator!

    • Sasha Lizst

      Are you kidding me, its POC who have prevented NC from becoming a complete joke. To blame black voter for her loss is deplorable. The white racist Republicans of NC defeated Cherie. End of story

  9. dvs lib

    “…[S]he failed to engage and motivate the base. She ran a cautious campaign in a year when she needed to take risks…”

    I’m going to need some good data on this because I am skeptical. The last non-presidential red wave year was 2010. Republicans won the Senate seat that year by almost 12%. This year — what should have been another non-presidential red wave year — Republicans here didn’t even crack a 4% margin. It’s possible she’d have lost by a larger margin had she not adopted the approach she did. Beasley massively over-performed and her campaign may hold the template to winning in 2024, when the environment probably won’t be as hostile for Democrats.

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