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Handicapping North Carolina’s Blue Chances
October 21, 2008, 6:11 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

So as this presidential race charges towards the finish line, North Carolina has, surprisingly to some, become a bona fide battleground state.  Just as recently as a month ago yesterday, Nate Silver over at the quintessential fivethirtyeight.com was predicting a 9% margin for McCain here in the Tarheel state.  Yesterday, in his mid-monthly evaluations of battlegrounds, he pegs North Carolina as a 0.9% favorite for Barack Obama.  Obviously this drastic shift has a lot to do with two factors: one that in mid-September, McCain was still enjoying a bit of a post-convention bounce in his poll numbers, which was especially prevalent in the states that Obama was not ‘supposed’ to be doing well in – ie Southern states, historically red states, etc.  Secondly, Obama’s national numbers in the last couple of weeks have been surging on the basis of his perceived better ability to handle the number one issue, the economy, along with some strong debate performances in which he has exceeded most expectations.  

So where exactly does this put our chances as we sit 2 weeks from election day. At the early vote rally the other day, Maital asked Representative Price why he thinks this year is different.  Price pointed to three specific factors.  Firstly, African American turnout – if Af. Am. Tarheels turn out in record numbers, and drive up the scores in places like Durham (and the Triangle in general), it will have the effect of canceling out some of the redder areas of the state.  Similarly, and secondly, young voter turnout.  Us whippersnappers in the 18-29 demographic are typically the laziest voter bloc out there.  But if this year’s contested primary is a harbinger of things to come, we may be in better shape in both of these areas.  Using available information for about half of the states, African American turnout this year (remember, this is the primaries) compared to 2004, was up 7.8%.  Young Voters were even more impressive, with their numbers up a whopping 52.4%.  This makes sense intuitively as African American voters are much more likely to show up to vote in the first place.  It’s us young’ns that are the really unreliable ones.  Finally, the third thing Representative Price mentioned was the ‘Democratizing’ (for lack of a better word… I’m not quoting Price on that) of the region in general.  More folks are moving south to places like North Carolina and Virginia, and this changing demographic tends to bring more Democrats.  Finally, Price didn’t mention it, but there’s this other big factor thats sorta like the 800 pound Gorilla in the room… you may have heard about it …  it’s called The abject failure of the Bush Administration and the complete bankruptcy of conservative philosophy.  But I digress.

So what data do we have to look at in relation to these factors that Price describes as the driving forces in blue-ifying (another made up term… I may continue doing this…) the state?  Voter Registration.

Looking at the data on the North Carolina Board of Elections site, which keeps pretty durn good numbers, we can see a couple of trends.  Firstly, since the start of this year, registered Democrats have gone from a 591,000 voter advantage to a 790,000 voter advantage.  Or, in other words, since January, Dems have added over 245k voters to their roles, while Republicans have added a mere 46k and unaffiliated with 168k for a total of 463k new voters… since January… in a state with 6 million voters.  Thats a 7.6% increase in total voters, with a 8.9% increase in Democratic Registrations.  These numbers speak to Price’s third point, that the area as a whole is just becoming more big-D Democratic.  Meanwhile, over the same time period, White voter registration has increased by 5.2%, while African American voter registration has increased by 12%, adding an additional 154k black voters to the rolls.  Assuming they vote as the polls are showing, with about 95% support for Obama, and assuming a modest 70% turnout (which is probably low for new registrants, who have a higher voting turnout) thats just under a cool 100,000 extra votes for Obama in the state.  

Some history to go along with this:

Add another 100k just from the African American population, and we’ve narrowed the gap by 2% points.  Add the youth vote into here (which I don’t have direct stats on), and you’ve probably narrowed another 2 points.  So just the numbers put us around 48-52 generically.

Recent polling – All of the last round of recent polling (Rasmussen: O+3, PPP: O+7, Research 2000: O+2) has put Obama ahead by a handful of points overall in the state.  His state average numbers have been only a point or two behind his national numbers, which is a really good sign, considering his national numbers are in the +6, +7 range.  So even if he falls a bit in the last couple days of this campaign (as he is expected to do as all campaigns tighten in the last days), as long as he stays above the +2 or +3 range nationally, he should stay ahead in North Carolina as a whole.  

Early Voting – Obama has been super-diligent about getting people to the polls early.  In Durham County alone, where there are around 190,000 registered voters, as of Monday (yesterday), 24,000 voters have already cast their vote – almost 14%.  Assuming the clip stays about the same, and then ramps up towards the end (which organizers are expecting/hoping), we could see over 50% of all Durham voters casting their votes before election day.  Even more astounding is that if we do get to around 50%, or 95,000 voters, that would be 87% of all votes cast in 2004 – before election day even comes around!  In that year, Durham cast 74,000 votes for Kerry, total, along with 34k for Bush, for a total of around 109k.  If Obama is collecting about 70% of the votes in Durham, that would net him approximately 66,500 votes before election day even comes around, nearly the total Kerry got last go-around.  

The fact is, Obama is dominating the ground game.  He is leading, according to Civitas, among voters who have already voted, by 32%!  One untold story about this election, that people will look back and say how come we never covered that, is how extensive, efficient, and overwhelming Obama’s ground game is.  Everyone out there who is knocking doors, making phone calls, and driving people to the polls is the heart of this campaign – and I’m not just saying that cus I’m one of them.  But I think the media focuses too much on these polls, when, right under their noses, Obama is orchestrating the biggest get out the vote effort we’ve ever seen.  This effort, and the army of volunteers that will be hitting the streets hard for the rest of the month, and especially on election day, is easily worth a couple points in any state where the operation is in full effect, North Carolina included.  So honestly, it really wouldn’t surprise me if Obama wins by even more than 3 points in NC, due solely to getting its voters to the polls, and the enthusiasm of the volunteers.  

Final disclaimer – I am beholden to say this.  The reason he is ahead is because of the energy and the enthusiasm behind his campaign.  This is no time to get complacent.  He is expecting this volunteer army, and if it doesn’t show up because people are happy with the polls, the numbers won’t materialize.  So, two weeks away from election day, I ask everyone to stay diligent, disregard the polls, and fight as though we’re five points behind.  And if you can give a day or two, go volunteer!  As James Carville says, in politics “When your opponent is drowning, throw them an anchor.”

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