There are only two days of early voting left in North Carolina. Locations are closed on Sunday and Monday.
How are things looking? I continue to see mixed signals for both parties. Things have been pretty consistent from the start, in this regard.
First, I want to give you the updated chart of turnout by a few key counties. As a reminder on the counties:
- Durham (votes about 3/4ths Dem, racially diverse, in the Research Triangle, home of Duke and NCCU; added many sites Thursday but also had a decent number open before that);
- Guilford (home of Greensboro, racially diverse, in the Triad area, home of UNCG and NC A&T; MANY more sites started Thursday; votes Dem, but not as much as other counties on this list (often 55-60%));
- Mecklenburg (home of Charlotte, racially diverse, 2nd most votes in 2012 (just behind Wake County (Raleigh) – which is more of a swing county); added many more voting sites Thursday);
- Orange (home of Chapel Hill/UNC Chapel Hill; one of the wealthiest areas of the state; less diverse than many other Dem counties on this list; tends to vote over 70% Dem; voting locations have been more steady);
- Brunswick (on the coast between Wilmington, NC and Myrtle Beach, SC; a lot of retirees, including transplants from the North/Midwest; expansive county in size; many more voting sites started Thursday). Note: below, I show you their data with mail-in ballots and w/o;
- Union (one of the more conservative suburban counties in the state; metro Charlotte; voting locations have been more steady).
As sites expanded last Thursday, you can see a surge in turnout in counties like Mecklenburg and Guilford, though neither has yet to catch up to some of the other counties that have had more locations throughout. But, what is often missed is that the expanded locations also helped in Republican-leaning counties like Brunswick, which has also seen a constant uptick since last Thursday.
Barring a surge in turnout in the last 48 hours of early voting — which is certainly possible — the question then becomes whether turnout in some of these counties catches up on election day.
Beyond that, I want to highlight a few more data points from Dr. Bitzer’s work over at OldStateNorthPolitics. Through Wednesday’s statewide returns, he has also found this trend of both parties improving their standing over the last week:
- Total accepted Ballots: 42.7% Dem — 31.8% GOP
- vs. 2012 totals at this point: Dems -0.8%; GOP +11.1%
- vs. 2012 totals at this point: White voters +18%; African Americans -11%
The good news for Dems: Again this year, Dems have a big early vote lead in North Carolina. Furthermore, Dems are hopeful that they’ll improve their standing among unaffiliateds in the state this cycle (a group of voters that have surged in early voting turnout). Finally, while African American turnout continues to struggle overall, it has been improving over the last few days of early turnout, so there are a few more days for it to potentially catch up to 2012 rates.
The good news for Republicans: That said, Dems always have a huge lead in early voting in North Carolina. This cycle, they’re basically flat while the GOP is up double digits in terms of turnout versus 2012 early voting. Meaning, at least just based on turnout by party, Dems have a smaller early vote margin than they had in 2012, a year when they lost the state by just over 90,000 votes come election day, despite that huge early vote advantage. “If” — and that’s a big if — GOP voters are voting for their ticket at similar rates to 2012 and they do similarly among unaffiliateds, they may do okay “if” election day turnout continues on at 2016 and 2012 trends. Now, with all these “ifs”…
The continued Wild Cards: Even with all this information, no one can tell you precisely how voters within these parties are voting. Normally, the GOP actually does a tad better holding its voters here than Dems, only because a portion of Dem voters in the state are still older, Southern Dems that haven’t changed their party registration over the years to reflect their tendency to vote GOP at the federal level. But, this portion of the party is much smaller than it used to be as many of these voters are now unaffiliated or GOP voters. By looking at all of the NC data this cycle, it looks like there’s a good chance voters from each party will back their respective candidates at similar rates. But, again, the difference of a few points within each party goes a long way.
That leaves the surge of unaffiliated voters. Many polls continue to show that these voters might favor Trump/Republicans — the key though is the margin. In 2012, our NC exits showed that Romney won these voters by about 15%. Right now, that’s looking unlikely, but unaffiliateds are certainly the most unpredictable, especially as they’ve wavered in the NC polls throughout the cycle. When Clinton has been ahead by several points overall, she’s often close to even among unaffiliateds (meaning, she holds that Dem registration advantage, which is enough to put her ahead a few points). When Trump is doing better in a poll, his margins are 10%+ among unaffiliateds.
With unaffiliated voting up pretty dramatically, Republicans don’t have to carry them by the same % margin to net as many total votes. But that magic number is a bit unclear, depending on all the other factors. If these voters are breaking right at the end, and Trump/the GOP win them by about 10% instead of the 2012 15% margin, that may be enough to win here, if all the party trends continue. Conversely, if Clinton/Dems are able to convert many of these unaffiliateds and get them within a single-digit margin, her/their party advantage may be enough to carry the day, as more polls expect.
Tomorrow, I start the deluge of Model updates across the board. Sunday, I’ll post the final update on NC early voting.