Could the Democrats Take North Carolina in 2020?
Their chances may be better than you think. From the latest Public Policy Polling North Carolina (note: not an outlier compared to other recent NC polls):
“46% of voters approve of the job Trump is doing to 51% who disapprove of him, in a state that he took by 4 points in 2016. 48% of voters support impeaching Trump, with an equal 48% opposed. At this point disapproval for Trump and support for impeaching Trump have become almost the same thing- only 7% of voters who disapprove of Trump are opposed to impeaching him.
We tested the 5 leading Democratic candidates in head to heads with Trump and he trails 3 of them, while it’s very close against the other two. Joe Biden has a 5 point advantage at 51-46, Elizabeth Warren has a 3 point advantage at 49-46, and Bernie Sanders is up 50-47. Trump and Kamala Harris tie at 47, and Trump has a slight advantage over Pete Buttigieg at 47-46. It’s notable that regardless of the Democrat he’s tested against, Trump always polls at 46-47% in North Carolina.”
Of course, it won’t be easy. Here’s my take on the challenges involved.
Hillary Clinton lost North Carolina by just under 4 points in 2016. This follows Obama’s narrow 2-point loss in 2012 and even narrower victory by one-third of a percentage point in 2008. All these performances were dramatically better for the Democrats compared to losing the state by 12 points in 2004 and 13 points in 2000.
Democrats made some progress in the state in 2018. They did relatively well in the House popular vote, losing it by under 2 points–though they did not succeed in flipping any GOP-held House seats. But they flipped a net of 16 state legislative seats and broke Republican supermajorities in both chambers. This is of considerable significance since North Carolina’s governor is currently a Democrat.
These trends give the Democrats hope they can take the state in 2020. The Trump campaign, on the other hand, is well prepared to defend North Carolina’s 15 electoral voters—essential for their coalition—even though Trump’s current net job approval rating in the state is in danger territory.
North Carolina’s large nonwhite population accounted for 28 percent of voters in 2016. As in Georgia, Blacks in North Carolina dominate the nonwhite vote: 22 percent of all voters, compared to 3 percent for Hispanics and just under 4 percent for Asians/other race. Blacks supported Clinton by 76 points, Hispanics by 15 points and Asians/other race by 2 points. White college graduates in North Carolina, 28 percent of voters, supported Clinto, but it was close, giving her a 4-point advantage, 49-45 percent. White non-college voters, 43 percent of the voting electorate, on the other hand, gave him a whopping advantage of 51 points, 74-23 percent.
We expect white non-college eligible voters in 2020 to decline over 2 points relative to 2016, while white college graduates should go up very slightly. Hispanics should increase a point, Black eligible voters by half a point and Asians/other race also by half a point. If 2016 voting patterns remain the same these underlying demographic changes in the eligible electorate would be enough to reduce the Democratic candidate’s projected 2020 deficit in the state by almost 2 points.
As with Georgia, given the relative closeness of Trump’s victory in 2016 plus the projected impact of demographic change, Trump probably needs to go beyond holding his 2016 levels of group support. Increasing his margin among white college voters by 10 points would yield a 5 point victory in 2020, all else equal, while increasing his already-huge lead among white non-college voters by the same amount would project to a 6 point margin.
For the Democratic candidate, the Black vote, as in Georgia, will have great importance. If Black turnout in 2020 matches 2012 levels (there was a large decline in 2016) that would actually project to a Democratic victory of just under a percentage point, all else equal. Matching Black support to 2012 levels would further boost the Democrats’ margin. A 10-point pro-Democratic margin shift among North Carolina’s liberalizing white college graduate population—going from +4 to +14—would project to a narrow victory of the same magnitude as the increased Black turnout scenario. Decreasing Trump’s very large white non-college margin by 10 points would project to a larger victory.
So those are the parameters of battle. Let the jousting begin!