I’ve spent the days since the election watching results, reading takes, and engaging analysts so I have a lot of thoughts right now. The election upended a lot of conventional wisdom. This post could be long, winding, and disjointed. I’ll get down a few ideas and probably revisit some of them again in separate posts next week.
First, the election restored my faith in the American people. They looked beyond their own circumstances to protect our government and country. They made nuanced decisions, splitting their tickets and reserving their ire for those who are the biggest threat to democracy. They defeated election deniers and Trump sycophants up and down the ballot. If the Republican in Nevada loses, which is likely, voters rejected every election-denying candidate for Secretary of States, securing our elections for the future and sending a message to those who would threaten them. Clearly, the American people were paying more attention than I thought they were. For once, they didn’t just vote for their economic self-interests. They voted to protect our country.
Voters, particularly women, looked at the bigger picture, too, seeing the Dobbs ruling as a threat to their freedom and the future of their children. While I was skeptical that the issue had legs going down the stretch, I was wrong. I thought worries about inflation had taken the momentum and urgency out of the issue, but clearly women were motivated to protect their rights that the GOP wants to take away.
Going forward, Republicans will probably tread lightly on trying to restrict abortion, regardless of their base. Every ballot measure that has sought to outlaw abortion has failed and cost the GOP dearly at the ballot box. In Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer leaned into protecting abortion rights from Republicans and the state had its own blue wave, flipping both legislative chambers and re-electing Whitmer, making her a star in the Democratic Party.
Democrats across the country should applaud Tom Bonier and Simon Rosenberg. They pushed back against a Republican narrative that the nation press was buying. Republican pollsters claimed we were heading for a wave. Bonier, who is CEO at the Democratic data firm TargetSmart, first identified that wave of new women voters who registered after the Dobbs decision and shocked the country by beating the Kansas anti-abortion measure by a landslide. He kept questioning GOP polling numbers by delivering real-time early vote numbers that showed Democrats running up huge margins in the early vote.
Rosenberg used his large following on social media to amplify the message and argue that GOP pollsters were “flooding the zone” with biased polls to skew the averages. Together Bonier and Rosenberg made up the defense against bad information that was making its way into the mainstream media in the final weeks of the campaign. They argued with pundits and celebrity analysts like Nate Silver, questioning their polling methods. They told the voters to ignore the polls and the negative media narratives because Democrats were leading and they had the numbers to prove it. They showed that polls are just one data point when it comes to predicting elections and that they can be as misleading as they are insightful.
Democrats should also applaud Joe Biden. He was a warrior down the stretch and probably the most underestimated politician of my lifetime Every time he’s counted out, he shows up with a big win. His policies and leadership deserve more recognition than they are getting right now.
Watching Republicans fall flat after predicting huge victories down the stretch has given me immense joy. One pundit that I follow on Twitter predicted that Republicans could pick up as many as four U.S. Senate seats. On election day, another tweeted, “Can we pinpoint the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan as the moment Biden killed his presidency?” With his victory this week, the Biden presidency is the most successful of any since Ronald Reagan.
Unfortunately, we didn’t feel those victories here in North Carolina. We had few bright spots and the ones we got will probably be undone. We’re a state that is tremendously divided between our rural and urban areas. In many rural counties, Ted Budd outperformed Donald Trump, winning 79 counties to Trump’s 75. He won more than 70% of the vote in 23 counties.
Beasley, in contrast, won fewer counties than Biden but improved on his margin where she did win. She won every urban county and a block of rural counties in the northeast part of the state that are majority African American. In those counties, she underperformed Biden significantly.
North Carolina may be purple, but it’s not that moderate. Urban counties behave more like a northeastern state while rural counties behave more like Alabama. The rural White vote has completely collapsed for Democrats and it’s hard to know if it’s hit bottom yet. I suspect Democrats are also losing votes among rural African Americans who don’t approve of the party’s embrace of abortion and LGBT+ rights.
In a related note, 73 of North Carolina’s counties saw a net increase in population. Just a few years ago, more than half of the counties were losing population. That said, most of the population increase was due to in-migration. Only a handful of counties saw an increase with more births than deaths and almost all of those counties were urban or military counties. These changes might offer Democrats some opportunities in rural counties in coming years.
A CNN exit poll has some interesting information. Exit polls have historically had problems, so take from it what you will. The poll says both Beasley and Budd consolidated their bases, winning 97% of the self-identified voters from their respective parties. Beasley won independents by six percent. Beasley also consolidated the African American vote, winning 93%, but the poll indicates the electorate was far Whiter than usual. While younger voters were deliver huge margins for Democrats in other states, she only won voters under 18-29-year-old voters by eight points. Budd won those 65 and over by thirteen points, and I suspect there were turnout among the older voters was at least twice as high. Beasley won White voters with a college degree by seven points while Budd won White voters without a degree by 50%.
Democrats’ problems in North Carolina can be fixed, but not easily. They need to somehow reduce the margin of losses in those rural counties while increasing turnout among younger voters in urban suburban areas. They need to figure out how to offset their shrinking margin among rural African American voters. I suspect that involves greater attention to newcomers, especially Hispanic voters. I’m doubtful that the Democratic brand is salvageable among rural White voters in the near term. They need to figure out that the GOP has nothing for them first and that can take a while. Those are some of my thoughts in the wake of this historic midterm. I’m not finished thinking about it yet.