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The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

Mining Electorate Data

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In the previous post, I compared the past two presidential elections against one another in a variety of different areas, most notably in the composition of voters casting ballots in North Carolina. 

Registered Democrats saw a significant increase (364,735) in their ballot numbers between 2004 and 2008, rising 22 percent, while registered Republicans saw a 9 percent increase in their voters casting ballots (120,896).

But it was registered unaffiliated voters who saw the largest percentage increase — 46 percent — or a rise of 270,034 ballots cast from 2004 to 2008. 

What other differences from the 2008 election in comparison to 2004’s election could we see? For instance, much was made of the massive turnout in young voters, but do we really have a clear sense as to what the youth turnout was like in comparison to other age groups? What about the increase in the black vote in comparison to the white vote? 

Again, using the data provided by the NC State Board of Elections, we can start to answer some of these questions and perhaps explore what the impact might be for this year’s election.

From 2004 to 2008, the overall electorate saw a 21 percent increase, with 759,026 more voters casting ballots in North Carolina. 

When looking at the racial composition of the electorate, white voters cast 79 percent of the ballots in 2004, while black voters cast 19 percent of the ballots.  In 2008, white voters saw a 13 percent increase over their 2004 numbers (adding 375,551 ballots), but dropped in the electorate’s total percentage to 73 percent.

Black voters saw a 45 percent increase over their 2004 numbers, adding 301,066 additional ballots in 2008, and made up 22 percent of the electorate casting ballots for then-candidate Obama.

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Along with race, the state Board of Elections reported ethnicity as a demographic of the voters who cast ballots in both 2004 and 2008. With the growing importance of the Latino vote across the nation, North Carolina saw 16,235 Hispanic/Latino voters cast ballots in 2004, while in 2008 the state saw 40,028 Hispanic/Latino cast ballots, an increase of 146 percent.

In comparison, non-Hispanic/Latino voters increased 21% from 2004 to 2008.  However, Hispanic/Latino voters casting ballots made up only 0.5% and 0.9% of the total electorate in both elections, respectively. 

In terms of the party affiliation of Hispanic/Latino voters casting ballots, from 2004 to 2008 we saw many more Democratic and Unaffiliated registered voters. GOP registered Hispanics/Latinos dropped from 30% of all 2004 Hispanic/Latino voters to 20 percent in 2008.

04 08 Hispanic-Latino Reg Voters by Party.jpg

We also heard about the turnout among younger voters in 2008 compared to 2004.  The state Board of Elections divides up their data into four age categories: 18-24, 25-40, 41-65, and over 66. 

In 2004, the youth vote (ages 18-24) composed 9 percent of the electorate; in 2008, 18-24 year olds rose by 35 percent, or 115,724 voters casting ballots. This was the age category that had the largest percentage increase from 2004.  But their share of the electorate only went up to 10 percent. 

The largest increase in raw numbers belonged to those aged 41-65 in 2008, adding 388,156 voters casting ballots to their category and making up nearly half of the electorate (48 percent).

In 2008, those over the age of 66 added 27 percent from their 2004 numbers (161,824) and made up 17 percent of the overall electorate, while those 25-40 years old added 14 percent (130,959) and saw their share of the electorate decrease from 26 percent in 2004 to 24 percent in 2008.

04 08 Total Votes Cast by Age.jpg

Again, we can’t decipher how these voters who cast ballots ultimately selected as their presidential choice. But for Obama to have made up 616,000 votes over Kerry’s performance had in 2004 — and win North Carolina by only 14,000 votes — means that the increased turnout among black voters, young voters, and voters 41-65 had to have had some impact on turning North Carolina from a 13 percent advantage to Republicans to a 0.3% coin-toss state. 

In my next post, I’ll look deeper into these ballots cast and see what kind of trends among party registration, in particular, were present in the 2008 election results.