I think all bets are off for this election cycle. Early voting across the country is at record highs. In North Carolina, the early vote numbers track closer to 2016 than 2014. This year, turnout should be at a twelve year low. With nothing at the top of the ticket, there’s no driver for the electorate, but people are going anyway. I guess that’s good for democracy.
There’s no guarantee that the numbers will hold. We could watch turnout drop in the coming days and look more like a regular midterm election. Those early voters could be eating significantly into Election Day voting. But we could be watching a midterm turnout like we haven’t seen in decades.
So what’s driving the turnout? Donald Trump. On the Democratic side, progressive have been itching to vote since inauguration day. On the Republican side, Trump is a master at firing up his base. For better or worse, he’s making it all about him.
So who are those voters? According to Dr. Michael Bitzer (and anybody interested in this stuff should be following him right now), 43% of the ballots have been cast by Democrats, 30% by Republicans and 27% by unaffiliated voters. Those unaffiliated voters are the great unknown. In 2014, Democrats made up 47% of the total early vote, Republicans 32% and Unaffiliated voters 21%. Those unaffiliated voters who are outperforming 2014 could make the difference in the election this year.
In 2014, Democrats made up 42% of the registered voters, so their early vote numbers were 5% higher than their registration numbers. This year, Democrats are about 38% of registered voters and are still performing at about 5% above their registration so far. The shrinking Democratic registration reflects older Democrats dying off, many of whom were Jessiecrats and not voting Democratic anyway.
In contrast, Republican registration has been steady at about 30% of the electorate. In 2014, they outperformed their registration among early voters by about 2%. This year, they are voting their registration.
African-American voters are underperforming their registration by about 3%. While that may have an effect on the Amendment outcome, they probably won’t impact the legislative and Congressional districts. Even with the redrawing of districts, African-American voters are already packed into Democratic districts.
I doubt there are many undecideds among this first group on early voters. They’re voting with a vengeance, not by happenstance. They know why they’re going to the polls and they know the stakes. It’s just hard to tell whose side has more people.
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 >