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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.

Romney Counting Chickens Before They Hatch?

With the word last week that the Romney campaign was feeling “confident enough about North Carolina … to shift staff out of the state” on the same day as in-person early voting started, it might be wise for them to consider some past history and the first couple of days worth of early voting.

On the first day of 2008’s early voting, over 117,000 North Carolinians cast ballots, with 64 percent coming from registered Democrats, while registered Republicans cast 20 percent of them and registered unaffiliated voters cast 16 percent of the ballots.

By the end of the third day of early voting in 2008, over quarter of a million votes had been cast, with registered Democrats still commanding 6 percent of the ballots, with registered Republicans at 22 percent and unaffiliated voters at 17 percent.

By the end of early voting in the state, registered Democrats had cast over 53 percent of the ballots, and Barack Obama had built a 305,000 vote lead, enough to compensate for the 291,000 vote lead that John McCain secured on Election Day. 

For Republicans, early voting was a tidal wave they didn’t see coming until the crest was right over them. Now, it appears that they learned the 2008 lesson, but Democrats may appear to have some more schooling for the GOP.

In this year’s first three days of early voting, all three registered groups have secured more votes than they did cumulatively in 2008.  But the percentage advantage continues to favor the Democrats.

The day the Romney campaign announced it was allocating “resources … to other states,” Democrats cast 57 percent more than 165,000 ballots on the first day of early voting, with registered Republicans casting only 25 percent and unaffiliated voters casting 17 percent. 

But most notably, Democrats added over 19,000 voters from their 2008 first day performance, with Republicans adding over 18,000 voters and 10,000 more unaffiliated voters casting their ballots on the first day. 

On days two and three, all three groups added to their 2008 performances, but Democrats still commanded 53 percent and 56 percent of the two day’s ballots cast, respectively.

One caution to add to this Democratic dominance in early voting: in North Carolina, many registered Democrats are actually Republican voters, especially rural, older, conservative voters.  So the Democratic advantage may not be as great as the percentages indicate, especially with the number of “no preference” votes the president received in the May primary in rural counties. 

But with the added numbers from 2008 and what appears to be the continued dominance of registered Democrats showing up early, Republicans may not necessarily want to crow their confidence quite yet.

With two weeks to go before Election Day, several polls and different analysts give a slight Romney edge in the state so far, but polls and actual votes can be two different matters.

Dr. Michael Bitzer is an associate professor of politics and history at Catawba College, where he also serves as the 2011-2012 Swink Professor for Excellence in Classroom Teaching and the chair of the department of history & politics. A native South Carolinian, he holds graduate degrees in both history and political science from Clemson University and The University of Georgiaââ