Politics & Government

How people of color, younger voters may shape the 2020 election in North Carolina

The number of North Carolinians who are people of color, unmarried women and millennials is growing and will be more than half of eligible voters in 2020. They could help determine the outcome of the presidential election and whether a state that has gone for both Obama and Trump will turn blue.

Those potential voters younger than age 38, which includes millennials and the generation that follows them, along with minority populations and unmarried women, has grown by 17% over the past five years in the state. They now represent 61.4% of eligible voters, according to a new report by the Voter Participation Center.

Center founder Page Gardner, who now lives in Durham, said that electorate is interested in not just the presidential race, but in governing overall.

“They’re not big D Democrats for sure. But what they are is they support candidates that reflect their values. ... They are more progressive than some. It’s very hard to label as one big category in terms of these voters. They’re not monolithic, but think the public sector has a role to play in the lives of people,” Gardner said in a phone interview Wednesday.

The Voter Participation Center is a nonpartisan nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that is dedicated to increasing the share of under-represented groups including those unmarried women, people of color and younger voters. The center commissioned a study by Lake Research Partners about the demographics of the rising American electorate in 2018.

That rising group of potential voters is 142 million people as of 2018, with much overlap between the groups. Data comes from the Current Population Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Here are highlights of what they found about those groups:

Reasons for not voting include being too busy, conflicts with work and school schedules, and illness or disability.

Despite growth, 39% of the rising American electorate are not registered to vote.

48% of unmarried women voted in 2018, their highest turnout in midterm elections.

Unmarried women are projected to be 25% of the electorate in 2020.

States with the largest share of the rising American electorate are concentrated in the South and on the coasts.

All of the groups had high rates of voter registration at the DMV, especially millennial and Gen Z voters. Asian-Americans and Latinx were most likely to register by mail. African-American voters were most likely to register at a town hall or local government office.

In 2018, less than half of the rising electorate voted. African-Americans had the highest voter turn out, while millennials had the highest rate of registering but not voting.

What it means for the South and 2020

A new poll shows North Carolina and Georgia as two Southern states that could turn blue for the 2020 presidential election.

Public Policy Polling found that a “generic” Democratic candidate versus Trump leads 64% to 24% among voters under age 30 in Georgia. That generic Democrat still leads Trump 59% to 33% with voters under age 45, and the lead narrows with older voters to 52% to 43% among those under 65.

In North Carolina, that Democratic opponent leads Trump 49% to 36% among people age 18 to 29.

It’s a tossup between Trump and a generic Democrat among voters age 30 to 45 -- with Trump getting 45% of support versus 44% for a generic Democrat. A Democrat takes back the lead in voters age 46 to 65, with 52% supporting a Democrat versus 44% supporting Trump.

“North Carolina has the same trend as Georgia where an increasingly diverse electorate creates opportunities for Democrats at the state level,” Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, said in the latest poll release.

Of the 6.91 million registered voters in North Carolina in the 2016 presidential election year, 4.76 million people voted, which was 68.9% voter turnout, according to the N.C. Board of Elections.

The UNC Carolina Population Center reports that the state’s fast-growing Latino population increased by 13.8% between 2012 and 2017. The same time period saw a 49.4% increase in Hispanic adults age 18 and older who are U.S. citizens, with more than 105,000 new potential voters.

Getting out the black vote in Raleigh

Brittany Cheatham of the National Black Worker Center Project, based in Raleigh, said they have started canvassing black voters in Raleigh as part of their Black Voices Black Votes Initiative. She said that voter engagement is registration and voting, but also accountability of elected officials.

“We find that when people feel like their issues aren’t heard, or positions aren’t taken seriously, they opt out of the process,” Cheatham said. So she and others are canvassing African-American voters in Raleigh, focusing on Southeast Raleigh and going door to door and from barber shop to beauty shop, she said.

Their votes shouldn’t be taken for granted, she said.

“In some elections, the voter turnout for black women was at historic levels, we do show up at the polls,” Cheatham said.

She said some politicians will show up during election season and say what they think black voters want to hear, and after the election, that’s it.

“Elected officials should be accountable,” Cheatham said. “North Carolina has the fifth largest black population in the country.”

She said they expect to have a report from the black Raleigh voter surveys in early 2020.

This fall, there are several local elections on the ballot, including Raleigh City Council and Durham City Council. Statewide in 2020, in addition to federal elections, North Carolinians will elect a governor and members of the General Assembly.

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.