North Carolina Democrats have seen sharply higher turnouts for local meetings and other party events this year, as opponents of President Donald Trump and the GOP legislature get more politically active.
The N.C. Democratic Party released numbers showing that 16,187 people have attended precinct organizational meetings this year – a 45 percent increase over last year’s turnout of 11,202 in a presidential election year, typically the time of greatest engagement. Those increases have been reported in liberal urban counties as well as more conservative rural counties.
“The N.C. Democratic Party has seen an unprecedented surge in enthusiasm since Election Day, and there’s no evidence of it stopping anytime soon,” party chairman Wayne Goodwin said. “It has been inspiring and incredible how many people are attending their very first precinct meeting or county convention.”
The unusually high level of interest in party politics isn’t limited to Democrats. The N.C. Republican Party is also reporting increased turnout at precinct meetings and county meetings. Executive director Dallas Woodhouse says the number of people active enough to qualify as state convention delegates is up 10 percent.
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“We have no question seen a surge of new people joining party events,” Woodhouse said in an email. “I consider this to be a ‘Trump surge’ of new activists. I think, generally speaking, the beginning of a new administration does generate new excitement and helps create new activists.”
Both parties say they’re seeing volunteer interest in places where party activity has been limited in the past.
The Democrats say the number of organized precincts – voting districts where the party has an active group of volunteers – has increased 54 percent since last year. Woodhouse said Republicans were able to hold GOP county conventions in all 100 counties “for the first time in many years.”
“Democrats can compete anywhere as long as we show up,” Goodwin said. “That’s why in particular I’ve been working hard to make sure we reach out to rural North Carolina.”
Democrats released numbers showing increased turnout across the state:
▪ In Wilkes County, 93 people attended precinct meetings, up from 42 in 2015.
▪ Buncombe County turnout increased from 427 to 927 over the same period.
▪ In Wake County, 3,068 people have attended precinct meetings, up from 1,445 in 2015.
Brian Fitzsimmons, who recently wrapped up his term as Wake party chair, started taking group selfies with the meeting rooms full of Democrats. Wake Democrats used targeted Facebook advertising and other methods to spread the word about the meetings.
“It was an increase of activity unlike everything I’ve ever seen,” he said. “This was a way that they could get involved, get plugged into the system and plugged into the resistance.”
Fitzsimmons says the interest in party activities is a sign the huge crowds at protests like the Women’s March could translate into more volunteers and energy for campaigns.
“We’re very good at getting angry – we’re not always as good at getting people to vote and do the actual work,” he said. “This leads me to believe that this is a sustainable thing that can make a huge difference in 2018.”
Fitzsimmons says the first test will come this fall: He’s eager to see if the state will see higher turnout and interest in municipal elections.