© 2022 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Follow the latest news and information about voting and the 2020 election, including essential information about how to vote during a pandemic and more.

Some NC Trump Counties Have Already Surged Past 2016 Total Voter Turnout

Trump rally 102820 Arizona Gage Skidmore
Gage Skidmore
President Trump speaks at a rally in Goodyear, Arizona, on Oct. 28, 2020.

Four years ago, President Trump won beachfront Brunswick County by nearly 30 percentage points and more than 19,000 votes.

This year it appears enthusiasm for the president hasn’t waned.

Brunswick’s early voting performance this year is arguably the best of all 100 North Carolina counties — a sign of how Republican voters have embraced before Election Day. Brunswick’s 2020 turnout is already 115% of its entire 2016 total vote — the highest in the state.

Fourteen North Carolina counties have already matched their entire vote totals from four years ago. Among those are Democratic strongholds like Mecklenburg, Wake, Durham and Buncombe. Democrats are expected to rack up large margins there.

But conservative, Trump-friendly counties have also seen a surge of early voting.

One of those is Union County, which has already exceeded its entire 2016 vote total. Nearly 108,000 people have already voted there, compared with 105,710 for the entire 2016 election. Trump won Union with 63% of the vote in 2016.

“There was a very concerted effort from the top down – RNC through the Trump campaign through the state part to the counties to get our voters to the polls,” said Dan Barry, the former chair of the Union County GOP.

Barry said that effort started when Democrats requested absentee mail ballots in record numbers. He said he didn’t expect the GOP early-vote surge.

“I am kind of surprised that turnout was so high in the suburban counties – Union, Cabarrus, Gaston, right?” he said. “It’s typical that you see a big splash on the first two or three days of early voting and then it falls off. That didn’t happen.”

Of course, it’s impossible to know whether a surge in voting in a Democratic county will lead to more Democratic voters. And it’s possible that a flood of early voters in places like Union and Brunswick will translate to more votes for President Trump.

“The real question in those counties — like Cabarrus, Union and Gaston — is what’s the Republican margin?” said Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College. “If it’s 2-to-1 Trump, that kinda replicates what happens in 2016. If it’s 60-40, if it’s the high 50s, low 40s, that’s another dynamic that could mean a Biden victory.”

Overall in North Carolina, nearly 62% of all registered voters have already cast ballots.

Democrats and Republicans are voting at numbers slightly higher than their share of registrations. Democrats are 35.6% of registered voters and have cast 37.4% of ballots. Republicans are 30.3% of registered voters and have cast 31.7% of ballots.

Unaffiliated voters are slightly down. African American voters – a key group for Democrats – are down slightly. Black voters are 20.6% of registered voters and have cast 19.5% of voters so far.

Mecklenburg County has had 490,115 people vote so far. In 2016, 472,857 people voted.

Rural counties are some of the state’s lowest when compared to the 2020 early vote with the 2016 total vote. Barry said he believes that’s in part to early voting not being as convenient. While Mecklenburg County had 33 early voting locations, Anson County had only one site, in Wadesboro. Anson’s 2020 early vote is about 70% of its 2016 total vote.

Jen O’Malley Dillon with the Biden-Harris campaign says she believes Biden has 53% of the early vote. Four years ago, Hillary Clinton led Trump 50-47% after early voting.

“With our advantage coming into North Carolina, where we estimate 87 percent of the projected vote is already in,” she said. “We believe Trump will need 62 percent of votes on Election day to win.”

Here are the North Carolina counties with the highest share of early voting in 2020 compared with overall voting in 2016:

  1. Brunswick 115% of 2016 vote; 63% Trump
  2. Chatham 109%; 53% Clinton
  3. Johnston 107%; 63% Trump
  4. Harnett 106%; 60% Trump
  5. Durham 105%; 77% Clinton
  6. Lincoln 104%; 72% Trump
  7. Mecklenburg 104%; 62% Clinton
  8. Pender 103%; 63% Trump
  9. Cabarrus 103%; 58% Trump
  10. Union 103%; 63% Trump
  11. Wake 102%; 57% Clinton
  12. Buncombe 101%; 54% Clinton
  13. Iredell 100%; 66% Trump
  14. New Hanover 100%; 50% Trump

Tell us about your voting experience. Did it go smoothly? Were there any problems? How were the lines? Did you feel safe? If so, why or why not?


Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.