posted : Nov 13, 2018

Blue wave? Not in North Carolina


As the midterm election dust settles, both parties can rightfully claim positive takeaways. On the surface, Democratic gains are easy to spot. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find the foundation of undeniable Republican leanings. 


Like it or not, the 2020 campaign season has already begun, and the early advantage goes to North Carolina Republicans, who will help launch President Trump’s 2020 bid by hosting the Republican National Committee’s Convention in Charlotte. 

North Carolina’s voting electorate is historically complex. And to better understand implications for 2020, we must start with the data from 2018. Three Republican US congressional candidates (Rep. George Holding, Rep. Ted Budd, and Mark Harris) stared down the ominously hyped “blue wave” in North Carolina. All three will occupy offices on Capitol Hill in next year’s new Congress.

However, with focus turned down-ballot, the urban-rural divide is easy to see. Only a trio of Republicanlawmakers were chosen on election night in the state’s most populous counties, Wake (Raleigh) and Mecklenburg (Charlotte). 

Halfway through the expanded early voting calendar, the results showed Republicans not only ahead of expectations in the 9th and 2nd district battlegrounds, but also far ahead in the 13th. This was solidified by the 18th day of early voting in 2018, a year in which 55 percent of the total 3.71 million ballots were cast before Election Day.

Though North Carolina featured no traditional statewide “top of ticket” federal race, statewide data has produced very relevant results that political parties ignore at their own risk. Both Republicans and Democrats should be concerned about 2020. The two most highly voted contests, in order, were to add Voter ID into the state’s constitution ( 3.65 million votes cast), and the race for North Carolina Supreme Court ( 3.61 million votes cast).

Voter ID, a staple of the Republican Party platform passed with 55.55 percent support. On the Supreme Court, Democrat Anita Earls cruised to an easy election with 49.45 percent over two Republicans who split the vote. But what’s unique about the Supreme Court race is that more voters chose to support a Republican candidate than the Democratic candidate. 

Heading into 2020, the Democratic Party’s concern should be over their last two statewide “top of ticket” winners failing to receive a mandate. This time, Anita Earls received just 49.5 percent of the vote. Remarkably, this total is higher than the 2016 top of ticket winner, Governor Roy Cooper, who received just 49.02 percent of the vote. The last time an elected governor in North Carolina failed to clear 50 percent was in 1896, when Representative Daniel L. Russell received 46.5 percent in a five-man race. 

The concerns for Republicans are obvious. Center-right candidates are not all under the GOP umbrella. Using the previous 2016 and 2018 examples, center-right third wheel candidates clearly played spoiler. Would Roy Cooper be governor if Libertarian Lon Cecil had not run and won many more votes than the difference between challenger Roy Cooper from Governor Pat McCrory? Would Anita Earls be headed to the state Supreme Court if Chris Anglin had not run? 

The good news for both parties, and more importantly for North Carolina, is that turnout is up. More voters are voting, and more people care about how their elected officials at all levels are doing. North Carolina's turnout was over 52 percent, blasting past 2014’s turnout of 44 percent and 2010’s turnout of 43.6 percent. When more people vote, everyone wins.


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