Analysis: White Suburban Voters Were Energized, College Students Didn't Show Up For Bernie

Mar 7, 2020

It wasn’t a surprise that former Vice President Joe Biden won North Carolina on Super Tuesday. But it was a surprise at how easily he won it, along with nine other states.

In the Democratic primary for president, 1.32 million people voted in North Carolina. That’s a 20% increase from the Bernie Sanders-Hillary Clinton battle in 2016, but still well short of the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton contest in 2008 that especially energized black voters, when 1.58 million voted.

The party might not be matching the 2008 magic, but after the disappointing turnout four years ago, more enthusiasm is a good sign.

Biden was going to win North Carolina based on early voting. He was ahead of Sanders with 28% to 24% through absentee mail and one-stop voting.

But the former vice president’s dominating win in South Carolina, along with the endorsements of Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Beto O’Rourke gave Biden a huge boost. He got 52% of the vote on election day. Sanders stayed at 24%.

Close to home, white voters in Mecklenburg County flocked to the polls. Black voters? Not as much.

Charlotte City Council District 7 is anchored by Ballantyne and includes wealthy areas like Piper Glen. It’s 75% white. Turnout in the district overall among Democrats was up 65% compared to 2016.

Meanwhile, City Council District 2 includes Charlotte’s Beatties Ford Road corridor and other minority-majority neighborhoods. It’s 28% white. Turnout in that district among Democrats was up 21% compared to 2016.

Some of that is due to population growth in south Charlotte (although the northern parts of District 2 include fast-growing areas near Mountain Island Lake).

The contrast is even more stark when looking at individual precincts.

Precinct 90 votes at South Charlotte Middle School off Pineville-Matthews Road. It’s 81% white.

Four years ago, only 267 people voted in the Democratic primary. This year, 442 cast votes in the Democratic primary. That’s an increase of 65%. Biden won it with 41% to 22% for Sanders.

Precinct 41 votes at Hoskins Avenue Baptist Church off Rozzelles Ferry Road. It’s 9% white.

Turnout there was up – but by only 4%. Biden won it 56% to 24% over Sanders.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise considering by the time North Carolina voted, the Democratic presidential field was all white. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker had dropped out.

It also suggests the suburban turn towards Democrats in North Carolina is continuing in 2020.

Orange County should be a gimmie for Sanders. Home to Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina, it was one of 18 North Carolina counties Sanders won in 2016. Sanders had 18,250 votes – 50% of all votes cast.

On Super Tuesday, he only got 12,602 votes or 29%. Biden narrowly beat him – one of 14 counties that Sanders won in 2016 but lost this year.

Elizabeth Warren did exceptionally well in Orange County, getting 10,199 votes or 23%.

Turnout was very high in Orange County, at 45% compared to 31% statewide. So people came to the polls – just not to vote for Sanders.

Watauga County – home to Appalachian State University – was one of four counties Sanders won Tuesday. But he did a lot worse than four years earlier. In 2016, he had 6,016 votes and 69% of the vote. This year he only got 4,516 votes and 47%.

Even if he had gotten every single one of Warren’s 1,303 votes in Watauga, he still wouldn’t have matched his performance in 2016.

Go behind the headlines with WFAE political reporter Steve Harrison in his weekly newsletter, Inside Politics. Steve will provide insight about and analysis of local and statewide politics. Readers will gain an understanding of political news on the horizon and why it matters. 

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