Politics & Government

In NC’s early voting, Democratic turnout down, but leads Republicans

Early voters out in force despite Hurricane Matthew aftermath

A line of voters stretched out of the Hope Mills Recreation Center near Fayetteville, N.C. on the first day of early voting Oct. 20, 2016. The area was hit hard last week by flooding from Hurricane Matthew.
Up Next
A line of voters stretched out of the Hope Mills Recreation Center near Fayetteville, N.C. on the first day of early voting Oct. 20, 2016. The area was hit hard last week by flooding from Hurricane Matthew.

More Democrats have taken part in early voting in North Carolina than Republicans by a double-digit margin, but the number of Democrats who have voted is lower than it was at this point four years ago.

As of Tuesday morning, 43.7 percent of votes cast were by Democrats, and 31.2 percent were from Republicans. During the same period in 2012, 49 percent of the votes that had been cast were by Democrats and 31 percent were by Republicans.

The biggest factor in the drop in Democrats voting is relatively low turnout among African-Americans, said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College who has been tracking the polls daily.

“In 2008, African-American voters flipped to being early voters,” Bitzer said. “What you have so far is registered black voters down 15 percent from their same-day totals in 2012. That is going to have an impact on overall Democratic turnout.”

So far, 22.4 percent of early voters identified as African-American, 71.2 percent identified as white and 6.2 percent identified as “other.”

During the first 12 days of early voting this year, 1,872,708 ballots have been accepted – 9 percent more than the same period in 2012.

Unaffiliated voters are responsible for that growth. The number of unaffiliated voters in the state now nearly matches the number of registered Republicans – 2,050,663 unaffiliated voters compared to 2,067,392 Republicans.

They have cast 24.9 percent of votes in North Carolina so far, compared to 19 percent of votes cast during the same period in 2012. Bitzer said the growth of unaffiliated voters in the state is part of a national trend, noting that some of the latest polls show 40 percent of Americans say they are political independents.

Bitzer said he has cautioned people that they should not “equate unaffiliated voters with political independents.”

“In reality, most of those folks are partisan,” he said. “Because if they lean to one party or they lean to the other, they will vote for that party 90 percent of the time.”

Bitzer said people register as unaffiliated for a number of reasons, including the ability to choose what ballot to use in primaries.

Lake Lynn Community Center in Wake County had voters waiting for about an hour to cast their ballots. Voters didn't mind the wait as they enjoyed a temperature near 70 degrees and a perfect fall day.

Democrats have turned out to vote early in greater numbers for years. In 2008, President Barack Obama, a Democrat, won more votes in North Carolina during early voting than Republican Sen. John McCain. Although McCain won more votes in the state on Election Day, he could not make up the gap, and Obama won North Carolina by about 14,000 votes.

Obama attempted to create the same early voting cushion in 2012, but Republican nominee Mitt Romney won enough votes on Election Day to win the state by about 97,500 votes.

Bitzer said Republicans are leading among mail-in ballots, as they have in previous years, although he noted that their numbers are “substantially down” from the same period in 2012.

Both parties have focused substantial resources on the battleground state, where the Real Clear Politics polling average shows Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by three percentage points.

Obama will headline get-out-the-vote events at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Wednesday and in Fayetteville and Charlotte on Friday, and Vice President Joe Biden is set to campaign on Clinton’s behalf on Tuesday in Charlotte. Trump is scheduled to campaign in Concord and Selma on Thursday.

Rachel Chason: 919-829-4629

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer