Why North Carolina is trending blue

by | Aug 3, 2020 | 2020 elections, Editor's Blog | 3 comments

Another poll in North Carolina shows Biden leading Trump and Cunningham with a huge lead over Tillis. We’ve seen similar polls since the spring. Conservatives don’t believe them. They cite the 2016 polls that showed Clinton defeating Trump. They believe rural voters will come out in droves to put Trump over the top. I believe the times, they are a-changin’.

As for the 2016 polls, they missed a lot of white voters, especially older ones, who had not voted in many years. Almost 78% of white voters over the age of 65 turned out in 2016, while only 76% turnout in 2012 and 72% voted in 2008. In addition, African American turnout dropped six percent and voters under 25 dropped by three percent. Pollsters may have under-sampled older white voters and over sampled African Americans and young voters. It’s not like they were off by much but in a state as close North Carolina, a few points matter.

Those errors won’t likely happen again. If anything, it’s the motivated younger voters who might be missed. Younger voters showed up in droves in 2018. If they follow that trend this years, Democrats will see a significant advantage in the electorate. African Americans also started voting in higher numbers again, so their impact will also be felt—and they won’t help Trump.

But there are bigger trends than polling errors that will reshape North Carolina. The Obama election of 2008 ushered in a new generation of voters. According to exit polls, voters under 30 voted for Obama by 50 points. Obama lost every other age cohort. Today, the youngest of those voters is now 30 years old, the oldest are in their early 40s. A look at cross tabs in recent polls shows this divide. Voters under 45 are driving the vote for Biden. These are the same voters who carried Obama to victory here in 2008 and now, they are voting more reliably. Combined with the new 18-30 year old voters, they choose Biden by more than 20 points.

Also, the suburbs that have traditionally supported Republicans have moved into the Democratic column. They carried Democrats to victory in 2018 and that support seems to be solidifying this year. Now, the exurbs, or outer ring suburbs, are becoming the battleground. In North Carolina, that means counties like Cabarrus and Union around Mecklenburg and Franklin and Harnett adjacent to Wake. This trend puts Congressional districts like NC-08 and NC-09 into play and gives Biden his edge.

Polls are consistently showing that Biden is leading Trump in North Carolina and that Cal Cunningham is beating Thom Tillis. Conservatives who continually point to 2016 are missing big trends happening in the state. The polls are probably capturing the Trump voters this time that they may have missed in 2016. The Obama generation of voters is coming of age and they are voting more regularly and have not gotten significantly more conservative. Finally, Trump’s behavior has driven educated voters in suburban areas away from the GOP and now the exurban areas are leaving, too.

We’re about to find out if 2020 is the tipping point that makes North Carolina more blue than purple. If not, the time will likely come in 2024 or 2028 unless the GOP changes its tune. The polls could certainly shift back toward Trump between now and November but the trends are with Democrats for the foreseeable future.


  1. Alan Skerrett

    It will be interesting to see if Democrats get an incremental turn-out boost from redistricting, and the more competitive environment for Democratic candidates in parts of the state for certain individual elections. There is a possibility for up-ballot and down-ballot synergy, what with the governor and senate races offering decent chances for victory, and new seats like NC-02 and NC-06 in Congress looking good for Dems… if people come out to vote.

    In NC, turn-out is key. A mere 1% turn-out increase here and there can accumulate in state-wide races and make a difference. We’ll find out in a few months. I wonder, is there any sense that the black vote is energized and ready to come out in force?

  2. Norma Munn

    Interesting point about young Obama voters. Makes sense. I do wonder about angry voters regardless of their age or location within the state. I think if they are angry at Trump, they either vote for Biden or opt out , thereby indirectly supporting Trump. If angry at “politicians and/or government”, they vote for Trump. I believe people vote against something more often than they actually vote for an agenda or person — no matter how they express it to pollsters.

  3. Dave Connelly

    How reliable would you say that polls are in NC? Traditionally, Jesse Helms voters seemed less likely to divulge their picks to pollsters.

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