Tomorrow, voting in North Carolina begins in earnest. While mail-in ballots have been available for several weeks, in-person early voting will give us far more insight into the electorate. If North Carolina follows states like Georgia that began voting in-person on Tuesday, turnout will be high. The Republican data firm Echelon Insights predicts a record turnout for midterm elections

On the first day of voting in Georgia, almost twice as many people voted as in the last midterm election in 2018. The state has competitive races for both Governor and Senator so it is not apple to apples with North Carolina, but the turnout is an indication of a highly politicized electorate. With a competitive, albeit more low key, Senate race, North Carolinians are likely to show up in large numbers, too. 

Mail in voting is up slightly from 2018, but is tracking fairly closely, according to Old North State Politics blog. As of Friday, 31,602 votes had been accepted. Democratic ballots made up about half the returned ballots with unaffiliated ballots coming next, and Republicans last. Republicans historically have made up the bulk of voters on Election Day. The numbers are largely insignificant in a year when Echelon Insights estimates about 4.2 million North Carolinians will cast ballots.  

The most interesting observation from Old North State Politics blog is the lack of a “Dobbs effect.” They’ve seen no increase in women voters despite the threat to abortion access in the wake of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Democrats will need to see a groundswell of younger women to win in a year where the fundamentals favor Republicans. So watch for a gender split in the early voting numbers.

As the voting begins, watch for raw numbers. Democrats used to believe high turnout benefitted them, but Trump turned that conventional wisdom on its head. While Democrats showed up in much greater numbers in both 2018 and 2020, Republicans did, too. In the 2018 midterm, both Democrats and Republicans saw an increase in turnout of about eight percent over 2014 with the GOP leading Democrats by about three percent in each cycle. Unaffiliated voters saw the biggest jump with an 11% increase in turnout. 

For Democrats to do well, they need to see a large turnout of younger voters. In 2018, voters under 40 saw a significant increase in turnout, but less than 40% cast ballots. In contrast, the group of voters aged 41-65, the most Republican cohort, voted at 61%, an increase of nine percent over 2014. I suspect Democrats need to see younger voters increase their participation above 2018 if they hope to win this year. 

In 2018, turnout increased nine points among White voters and six points among Black voters. Again, Democrats probably need to see Black voters participating at higher levels again this year. With Cheri Beasley at the top of the ticket, that’s a very real possibility. 

So, as voting begins, watch, in particular, turnout among younger voters, women, and African Americans. All three groups have a history of voting early. If they are exceeding 2018 levels, Democrats can expect to have at least a reasonably good night in November, remembering that a good night is one where they don’t get shut out. Republicans will probably dominate election day so be careful with predictions based on the early vote. Look for trends more than answers. And make sure everyone you know votes.

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