Yesterday, a tweet came across my feed that said, “Critics Who Claim Voter ID Laws Are Racist Won’t Like the Results of This Study.” The story on a right-wing web site called The Blaze said that, contrary to critics claims, Voter ID laws in North Carolina had not suppressed minority voters. In fact, despite the law, more blacks voted in the state’s May primary this year than in 2010.
The only problem with the story? Voter ID doesn’t go into effect until 2016. But why let some pesky facts get in the way of a good story, especially one that will fire up the wing nuts?
However, a closer read reveals that the study cited was not about voter ID but about same-day registration. (It’s hard for even the right wingers to keep track of their voter suppression tactics.) According to the article, African-American turnout increased almost 30% above 2010 levels while white turnout increased only 14%. The Blaze smugly claimed that, see, Voter ID laws don’t discourage minority voting.
Instead of making up headlines, though, the study should be an “Oh, shit!” moment for Republicans. For months we’ve been hearing dire warnings about a deteriorating political environment for Democrats and an enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats. The Republican base, we’ve been told, is far more motivated to vote this year. If that study is correct, the data refutes that notion. In fact, a 30% increase in African-American voters in November would make Thom Tillis’ road to victory significantly more difficult.
I’ve never put too much stock into polling voter enthusiasm. And I certainly don’t believe predictions made almost six months before the election. That said, I’m confident that 2014 is not going to look like 2010. For one thing, there’s no palpable anger and fear like there was in 2010. While the economy is still not as strong as everyone would like, we’re not hearing that we could slide back into recession. Obamacare is fading from the headlines because it hasn’t caused the economic collapse Republicans predicted.
And in stark contrast to the national polls, the Democratic base in North Carolina is paying attention and motivated. They aren’t hanging on the partisan debates raging in Washington but they know that our public schools have taken a hit, our teachers are leaving and they are blaming the General Assembly. Women believe that Thom Tillis and his house colleagues have harmed women’s access to health care and Tillis reinforces that notion by praising the Hobby Lobby ruling, despite the fact that it will cost some women more money for birth control. And African-Americans believe that Republicans are trying to keep them out of the voting booth. Whether that’s true or not, and I believe it is, is irrelevant given the history of disenfranchisement in the South.
Too many observers and analysts blame the Democratic loss in 2010 on the failure of the Democratic base to show up. That’s not exactly right. In North Carolina, African-Americans made up about 20% of the electorate. While that’s down from presidential years, it’s still higher than any off-year election in recent memory, including the 2006 Democratic wave.
Republicans, though, showed up in droves in 2010. And the Democrats lost white moderates by huge margins because Obama and the Democrats got blamed for the sluggish recovery and the negative perceptions and uncertainty surrounding Obamacare. Those issues won’t be in play this year.
Instead, Tillis needs to convince his base that he’s a real conservative at a time when he’s pushing gambling to fund the government and he’s stopped talking about Obamacare. His talk of a “Carolina Comeback” might ring true for the wealthy people benefiting from the tax breaks, but we still have fewer jobs than we did before the recession and the ones that have returned are not as good as the ones that disappeared. People may not be feeling as scared as they were in 2010, but they also aren’t feeling like they are better off than they were before the economic collapse.
We’re not seeing another wave election in 2014, at least not in North Carolina. Republicans may be safe in their heavily gerrymandered districts, but the guy at the top of the Republican ticket faces some serious obstacles. While the Democratic base here wants to punish Tillis for the actions of the General Assembly, he gets a “meh” at best from the GOP base. While the moderates may not love either Obama or Hagan, they are more dissatisfied with the legislature and as Speaker of the House, Tillis can’t put much distance between himself and the General Assembly.
So, don’t believe everything you read.
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 >