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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.

2016 Election In NC Will Be Year Of Big 3


Now that the NC State Board of Elections has gathered the final data from the 100 counties for the 2014 general election, some patterns exist to give us a better sense of the details of this year’s electoral contest.

First, 2014’s mid-term seems to fit a growing pattern of competitiveness in North Carolina’s elections, and will most likely continue in 2016. In looking at the presidential, U.S. Senate, and gubernatorial races since 2008, the average margin of victory is 5.6 percent. 

Taking out the 2010 Tea Party election where Richard Burr beat Elaine Marshall by nearly 12 percent and Pat McCrory’s 11 percent victory over Walter Dalton, the average falls to a 3.2 percent margin of victory.

If the past election cycles indicate a level of baseline level of support, both parties appear to be sitting at around 45 percent that they can be assured of going into an election. And with the typical partisan voting over 90 percent of the time for their party’s candidate, elections generally have turned into contests over which strategy is most effective: increasing your base support, thereby sacrificing some of the middle, or going after the middle 10 percent that could tip elections one way or the other.

As the 2016 election cycle has already begun, the best bet is that North Carolina will again see a competitive environment, this time with the big three contests drawing a lot of attention.

Statewide, 2014’s mid-term election fit into the historic pattern when it comes to a number of indicators, such as the turnout rates among different groups. Overall, 44 percent of the eligible registered voters showed up to cast ballots, the same as the 2010 mid-term general election.

Among turnout by party registration statewide, 2014 also fit the same pattern as in 2002 and 2010, when there was a U.S. Senate contest. The comparison between mid-term and presidential elections is quite noticeable, but so too are the turnout differences between partisans and unaffiliated voters.


The chart to the side shows the stark comparisons between both registered Democrats and Republicans compared against registered unaffiliated voters. The slight uptick in unaffiliated turnout compared to four years ago may have been more about the competitiveness of this year’s U.S. Senate contest than the Burr-Marshall race from 2010.

The key explanation to the paltry showing from all three groups in 2006? There was no statewide contested election that year.

In terms of statewide turnout by race, the patterns also continue for mid-term elections, with white voter turnout slightly ahead of black voter turnout in midterms, while in the past two presidential years, black voter turnout was slightly higher than white turnout.


In Mecklenburg County, the trends also have held the same. Among party registration turnout, while Republicans are outnumbered in numbers, they follow the statewide trend of turning out more than their Democratic counterparts in midterms, with both partisan groups ahead of the unaffiliated voter turnout.

Among racial and ethnic turnouts in Mecklenburg, presidential years show the higher turnout among black voters over white voters, but mid-term elections show the significant drop across the board, especially among Hispanic/Latino voters.

As we gear ourselves up for what appears to be a competitive presidential primary season and another epic election year in two years, the patterns suggest that North Carolina should prepare for another intense electoral competition come 2016.