The country has been in a cycle of wave elections since 2006. The only exception was 2012. However, while a GOP wave hit the rest of the nation in 2014, it missed North Carolina. Turnout in the state was normal for an off-year election and while Kay Hagan narrowly lost, Democrats added seats in the General Assembly. This year, North Carolina may be headed for a wave despite what happens in the rest of the country.
Waves happen because voter turnout on one side is motivated while the other is depressed. Early signs show just such a pattern in North Carolina. Dr. Michael Bitzer of Catawba College has been tracking the mail-in absentee ballots in North Carolina and the trend is ominous for Republicans. (If you’re not following Dr. Bitzer, why the hell not!?)
Republicans have always dominated mail-in absentee voting in North Carolina. The state makes it somewhat cumbersome and many of the people who participate are more upscale voters who know they will be out of town around the election. They are the country club Republicans who are also more educated than much of the GOP base.
At this point in the cycle, Democrats lead the Republicans in the number of ballots accepted by the Board of Elections. According to Bitzer, Democrat and Independent ballots accepted are up more than 15% over 2012. Republican ballots accepted are down more than 40%.
The uptick in Democratic and unaffiliated ballots indicate an organizational effort to increase participation in this method voting. The sharp Republican decline, though, reflects a depressed electorate. These are the voters that polls across the nation have suggested might take a pass on Trump.
Once again, North Carolina could forge its own path during the election. Like 2014, state issues are affecting the election as much as national ones. The loss of the NBA All-star game, the NCAA and ACC tournaments and numerous other business opportunities due to HB2 has soured voters on the GOP in the state. A stronger governor might provide a buffer from a Trump collapse, but McCrory is giving Republicans little reason to go to the polls. Republican Senator Richard Burr has built a career by staying largely undefined so his campaign won’t give voters a big incentive to protect him, either.
We still have more than month to go and the mail-in ballots could take a big turn but if the trend continues, it probably spells bad news for the GOP. Same-day early voting starts on Oct. 20 and we’ll see if Republican turnout stays depressed. If it does, Democrats up and down the ballot in North Carolina will likely have a good night on Nov. 8.
Four weeks out, the landscape looks ominous for the GOP
With just under four weeks to go in the election, the political environment is continuing to deteriorate for Republicans. Donald Trump has apparently decided that he’s going to fight the Republican Party as well as Hillary Clinton. He’s bashing Speaker Paul Ryan on twitter and leaving down-ballot Republicans in a terrible position.
Polls show that candidates who disavow him now pay a serious penalty with the base that still supports Trump. However, large portions of the undecided electorate, particularly women, are abandoning him at a remarkable pace. Polls this morning show that he’s trailing Ohio by nine and is tied in Utah. If the trend holds, he’s facing a landslide.
In North Carolina, no high quality public polls have been released since the weekend. However, going into it, Clinton held a small but significant lead, Roy Cooper was up on Pat McCrory, and Deborah Ross was tied with Burr. If North Carolina is following the trends in other states, then Democrats here are poised to have good election cycle.
While much of the electorate’s position is solidifying, external events could still move the needle. Hurricane Matthew is giving Pat McCrory a lot of free airtime and the opportunity to show off his leadership skills. However, PPP’s Tom Jensen, who has probably polled North Carolina and McCrory more than anyone, says that opinions of McCrory are baked in. That’s bad news for the governor.
Also, the mail-in ballot data is still ominous for Republicans in North Carolina. Democratic and Unaffiliated ballots are up by about 10% over 2012, but GOP ballots are down 43%. These are wave numbers if they hold in the same-day early vote and day-of voting.
Nationally, a terrorist attack or threat from somewhere else could shake up the political environment. Trump would need to look presidential for it to help him and, so far, he’s not succeeded in previous crisis situations like Orlando. He’ll need to be reined in if he hopes to recover. As long he makes the election about him, he’s hurting himself and his fellow Republicans.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com .