Primary day is upon us. But before we break out the popcorn and watch returns tonight, let’s see what we can learn by comparing the 2020 early voting returns to those of 2016 on Civitas’ Vote Tracker site.
First, here is what we don’t yet know: does the increase in early voting from 2016 to 2020 mean that voter turnout has gone up? We will not know that until we see the election day turnout since we have no way of knowing if increase early voting signals more voting or moved voting (from election day to the early voting period). For that reason, we have to put a mental asterisk by most of what you see below, because the election day numbers could change things (although probably not enough to change the big trends noted below).
So here is what we tentatively do know:
If you have an interesting presidential primary, more people will vote
The lion’s share of early voters voted in the Democratic primary with 65.2% of all voters requesting Democratic ballot.
North Carolina has semi-open primaries in which unaffiliated voters can request to vote in either major party’s primary. Since both of the interesting statewide primaries were on the Democratic side, 66.18% of unaffiliated voters requested Democratic ballots. In 2016, when both parties had interesting presidential primaries, the split was roughly even with 52.95% of unaffiliated voters requesting Republican primary ballots.
Whatever the reason, it is generally considered good to have more people voting in your primary as it potentially build’s attachment to your candidates for the general election.
The 2020 Democratic primary has proportionately fewer young people, women, and African Americans than in 2016.
One consequence of the influx of unaffiliated voters in the Democratic primary is that they proportionately diminished the presence of groups who are widely considered to be core parts of the traditional Democratic coalition. Proportionately fewer women, African Americans, and young people voted in the Democratic primary compared to 2016. The numbers of each group grew from 2016 to 2020 but were overwhelmed by the relative growth of males, whites and older people in the Democratic primary. Here is a comparison of the numbers for people who requested Democratic primary ballots in 2016 and 2020.
- Women: 60.06% in 2016, 57.05% in 2020
- Blacks: 38.52% in 2016, 32.85% in 2020
- College-aged people (19-22): 5.4% in 2016, 4.8% in 2020
Of course, the number for all three groups (especially black voters), was lower in the Republican primary.
On the voter registration front, Republicans out gain Democrats but unaffiliated voters gain even more
If the relative gain of voters in the Democratic primary could be good for them, Republicans have good news regarding voter registration during the early voting period.
Moving over to Carolina Elections voter registration page, we find that Democrats have gained some, Republicans have gained some more, and the number of unaffiliated voters increased even more. Measuring from January 11 (two days before the first absentee ballots were submitted through February 29 (the last day of one-stop voting), North Carolina had a 41,666 net increase in registrations, including:
- 7,441 more Democrats
- 10,324 more Republicans
- 23,901 other voters (almost all unaffiliated)
The geographic pattern of those registrations fit a pattern I noted a few weeks back, with large Democratic gains being in urban counties and Republican gains more evenly spread across the state.
The big question at this point is whether voter registration numbers will more closely resemble 2008 (when there was a massive boost in Democratic nominations ahead of Barack Obama’s historic win) or 2016 (when Republicans enjoyed their more typical modest advantage in net registrations ahead of Donald Trump’s victory). The pattern of voter registration changes so far this year is closer to the latter, suggesting that 2020 could be a good year in North Carolina for President Trump.