North Carolinians went out to vote last Tuesday in the 2020 primary election, dubbed “Super Tuesday” because so many states and delegates are up for grabs on that one day. While we know the results of this election, many do not know what these results mean, how they came to be, and just how much of a battleground state North Carolina has become. Additionally, our state has new legislative and new congressional maps for this election, which has greatly impacted candidates and voters.
Anna Beavon Gravely, Executive Director of the NC FreeEnterprise Foundation, works to research and analyze North Carolina’s dynamic and highly competitive political landscape. Gravely joins host Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast to discuss how North Carolina has grown and changed politically, and what we can expect going forward to November.
Looking at the numbers, there are some surprising statistics, according to Gravely. “North Carolina continues to rank at the top of nearly every list,” she says, “and really that’s resulted in about 1.1 million new registered voters since the November 8th, 2016 election.”
Of these new voters, 61% are under the age of 30, and 45% of them are registered unaffiliated. “So we’re seeing a really high increase on new registered voters […] really rejecting being a part of the typical two-party model of Republican and Democrat.”
Those unaffiliated voters are going to be targeted heavily leading up to November. For Gravely, she will be watching who the Democratic presidential nominee will be. “That’s going to impact so much in North Carolina; it’s going to impact messaging, grassroots tactics, and even the amount of money that campaigns use to target.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Anna Beavon Gravely unpack the changes, nuances, and trends of North Carolina’s political landscape.
TRACI GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. North Carolina joins 15 other states this week for Super Tuesday, which somewhat officially kicks the 2020 election season into high gear. While most of the news is focused on the national stage, there are a lot of LOCAL races that are equally—and often even MORE important to the daily life of North Carolinians. Here in North Carolina, in addition to voting for our nation’s President and U.S. Senator, we also vote for 13 North Carolina seats in the U.S. House. We will choose our state’s Governor, the entire Council of State, eight state-level judges, and all 170 members of the General Assembly. That’s a lot of races and candidates to keep straight.
We’re joined today by Anna Beavon Gravely, Executive Director of the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation, which provides analysis of the political landscape and its impact on North Carolina’s business environment. Anna Beavon is going to help us get a lay of the land, so to speak, for the 2020 elections here in North Carolina.
Anna Beavon Gravely, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
ANNA BEAVON GRAVELY: Thanks for having me.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well, before we dive into all of these races and candidates, let’s talk about the voters. We know North Carolina is consistently ranked as one of the best states to live and work, which means a lot of people are moving here. So what does a look at voter registration trends tell us about what’s going on here in North Carolina?
ANNA BEAVON GRAVELY: Yes, Traci, you’re absolutely right. North Carolina continues to rank at the top of nearly every list, and really that’s resulted in about 1.1 million new registered voters since the November 8th, 2016 election, and that’s a lot.
TRACI GRIGGS: Boy, that is incredible. So when you look at those, are we turning more blue, more red? Are we purple? What’s going on with us?
ANNA BEAVON GRAVELY:So 25 percent of those new registered voters come from Wake and Mecklenburg County, which sort of fits with the trend that we’re seeing with more people wanting to move to urban areas over rural areas. But the real takeaway for this one that I think is going to be really impactful in the election in the fall is that 61 percent of those new registered voters are under the age of 30. And so with that, about 45 percent of them are registered unaffiliated. So we’re seeing a really high increase on new registered voters registering as unaffiliated, and really rejecting being a part of the typical two-party model of Republican and Democrat. But overall the state itself is looking like a third, a third, a third. A third unaffiliated, a third Democrat and a third Republican.
TRACI GRIGGS: Very interesting. Well, North Carolina is the only state in the nation with new legislative and congressional maps, after being required to redraw them, and redraw them. What effect does that have on things like candidate recruitment, fundraising and campaigning?
ANNA BEAVON GRAVELY: So we have quite a few open seats. What that really means is that the incumbent is not running, has decided not to run in that race either at all in the election, or they’ve decided to run for a different office. And a lot of that has to do with fatigue. There’s fatigue on the candidate side and there’s fatigue on the voter side. People run for office because they want to make life better for people, they want to improve the situation and the circumstances in their community. And when we have the third election in a row with new maps, and we’re guaranteed a fourth with the census this year and then we’ll redraw the maps in 2021. With that it makes it really difficult for them to get to know their constituents and really understand what matters to their community. And on the flip side, the voter is very confused about who their elected official is and who’s running in their district. So it makes it really hard for them to get to know their Representative. So that has a rippling effect on all the pieces, on recruitment, candidates wanting to run, ‘cause they don’t really understand their districts, or they’re just really tired of having new lines and new circumstances, and the fatigue of just the unknown. And then it also impacts their fundraising because if they are not known to their general public, then they’re not going to be able to raise enough money to compete on the playground.
TRACI GRIGGS: Anna Beavon, what will we learn, do you think, from the results of the primaries for President and the various congressional races that may give us insight into how the rest of this election season will shape up? And of course this program is airing during the week that primary elections are happening in North Carolina.
ANNA BEAVON GRAVELY: The most important election to watch certainly is the presidential election for the Democrat nominee. That is going to be a huge factor in how campaigns, both Republican and Democrat, decided to message, decide to target. There’s a whole different messaging for Michael Bloomberg or Joe Biden than it would be for a Bernie Sanders or an Elizabeth Warren. We’ve got a lot of things waiting in the wings, if you will, when it comes to messaging and turning out. Like I mentioned earlier, with the 61 percent new voters under the age of 30, that’s really going to impact how much they’re going to be targeted in the election cycle itself.
TRACI GRIGGS: NCFree, your organization, does a lot of research and analysis related to campaign funding, and we know that North Carolina has seen increasing levels of out-of-state funding in recent elections. So do you expect that to continue this time and what impact does that have on candidates, platforms and races here?
ANNA BEAVON GRAVELY: Yeah, that’s absolutely going to be a trend that continues. I like to look at the Ninth District special election, the one between Dan Bishop and Dan McCready, and that was the second most expensive special election House race in U.S. history. And that was a $12.4 million race. There was a lot, a lot of outside money that came into that race, and that is a trend that will continue into 2020.
TRACI GRIGGS: Which North Carolina races are having primaries? And again, that’s happening this week. And does that tell us anything interesting?.
ANNA BEAVON GRAVELY: Yeah, so quite a few seats and districts do have primaries, but I think going along with the amount of fatigue with the redistricting being the third election in a row with new maps, there are quite a few uncontested races as well. And it turns out that a good number of them are on the Republican side that are being contested, and uncontested on the Democrat side. What that’s going to end up looking like in the General, I’m not quite sure because it shifts a lot of the energy, and a lot of the focus to being in November. So we’ll see a longer runway on fundraising, we’ll see more individuals getting the word out and spreading the message and building a grassroots movement, and having longer conversations with those individuals that can give them money to help them cross the finish line.
TRACI GRIGGS: So of course, North Carolina has a divided government right now, a Democrat Governor, a Republican Lieutenant Governor and Republican majorities in both chambers—but not super majorities of both chambers of the General Assembly. So we’ve seen quite a bit of fighting going on the last few years. Do you anticipate that divided government will be a continuing trend here in North Carolina?
ANNA BEAVON GRAVELY: For the near future, yes. And I say that’ll work through 2022 and 2024 with our voter registration sitting at about a third, a third, a third divided between Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated. That makes the fight for the middle so much more, and really does lend itself to be split and seemingly schizophrenic. When you have a Democrat at the top and you have a Republican Lieutenant Governor and then you have Republican control in both the House and the Senate, that ends up with a lot of infighting and a lot of gridlock and we’ll see that more to come.
TRACI GRIGGS: So in the Council of State and General Assembly races, there are a lot of current members retiring and former members looking to return to state government. So what might all of that mean for the partisan breakdown in state government?
ANNA BEAVON GRAVELY: We have quite a few incumbents that are not running. There are 16 in the House and 11 and the Senate. And that breakdown is 12 Republicans on the House and seven Republicans on the Senate, and three Democrats. And that will have a large impact on fundraising. One of the advantages of being an incumbent and running is that you have a voting record, you’ve built up a name ID, and you’ve also had the chance to really connect with your constituents. Former members that are coming back, I think this was one of the more interesting things that we’re seeing, we’re seeing more former members come back and running in the General Assembly. There are eight in the House and there are seven in the Senate. Which, to my knowledge, this is one of the larger groupings of former members coming to seek their feet again. And I think that the redistricting conversation has increased the likelihood of their being able to pick up those seats, and maybe win and a chance where they wouldn’t have before. The biggest impact here is on the fundraising side, and then also for relationship building.
TRACI GRIGGS: So the change in maps, we talked about that a little bit earlier, is that going to have negative effects on any, or is it going to swing any of the districts from one party to the other?
ANNA BEAVON GRAVELY: Largely the districts that have been redrawn have made them more competitive. I think that there are a lot of factors that will determine whether or not there’ll be full flips, going from one party to the other party. The General Assembly when redrawing the maps made districts more competitive, which went from having maybe a one or two point difference instead of a five or six point difference, which is going to again cause a lot more strife or difficulty for both sides. When you shift districts to being more competitive, there’s much more urgency and there’s a heightened sense of competition between the two candidates that come out of the primary and really make it to the general. So not so much of a guarantee on a flip, but much more guaranteed on the competition side.
TRACI GRIGGS: So what’s the most important thing you think we’re going to learn coming out of the primary election on March 3rd here in North Carolina?
ANNA BEAVON GRAVELY: I’ve alluded to this a little bit before in the show, but the number one thing that I’m going to be watching is who the most likely candidate for the presidential nominee for the Democrat party is going to be. That’s going to impact so much in North Carolina; it’s going to impact messaging, grassroots tactics and even the amount of money that campaigns use to target. Because if you’re talking about targeting a millennial or an under 30, it’s going to be very different than targeting my parents or my grandparents, because those tactics of grandparents and parents, mail and phone calls are much more trusted and they’re less expensive. When you look at targeting a young person, it’s all through a digital device, whether it’s their phone or their iPad or a streaming service, and those tactics are extremely expensive. So you’re looking at a huge swing in the amount of money that races are going to cost depending on who that likely presidential nominee is going to be from the Democrat party.
TRACI GRIGGS: Emphasize if you would, and I know you feel this way, that local is so important and although we are keeping an eye on what’s going on in the national level, we just cannot discount how important all of these local races are.
ANNA BEAVON GRAVELY: No, you’re absolutely right. And I think you said in the intro for the show about how North Carolina is a great place to live and work and play. And the reason why that’s the case is because of the local policy that’s passed, and the local officials who go to Raleigh to represent their constituents. And this year’s just been a lot of confusion and a lot of change with North Carolina being the only state in the nation to have new legislative maps and new congressional maps. So not only are we going to have a focus from a national standpoint, but our local races are also going to see an increase in out-of-state funding just because of how important this state is. We’re truly are a battleground state at all levels.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well, we’re just about out of time for this week, before we go Anna Beavon, where can our listeners go to learn more about the elections here in North Carolina and follow your work at NCFree?
ANNA BEAVON GRAVELY: Yeah, you can visit our website, ncfree.org or you can stay tuned in to Twitter @ncfree.
TRACI GRIGGS: All right. Well, Anna Beavon Gravely, Executive Director of the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation. Thank you so much for joining us on Family Policy Matters.