How NC Votes Likely to Determine National Outcomes, Experts Say

Three Duke scholars discuss 2020 election

Part of the From Health Care to Child Care, the Impact of COVID-19 Series
How NC Votes Likely to Determine National Outcomes, Experts Say
Professors Pope "Mac" McCorkle, Deondra Rose and John Aldrich

In the upcoming election, North Carolina voters will have a lot of sway.

Republican President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice-President Joe Biden, are locked in a tight race thus far. As a Southern state that often leans Republican in presidential elections, North Carolina could change the course of the entire national election if Biden can eke out a win here, three Duke experts said Thursday during a media briefing on the relevance of the Tar Heel state this election season.

Watch the briefing on YouTube.

Here are excerpts:

ON WHAT TO MAKE OF POLITICAL POLLS

John Aldrich, political science professor

“Polls can provide us with a pretty good indication of where things stand at the moment. The big thing about this year compared to prior years is how dramatic the changes have been month to month and week to week and day to day. A poll taken today is relevant for today, if it’s a good poll. It’s not necessarily relevant for tomorrow, let alone next week or a couple months from now.”

 

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF NORTH CAROLINA AS A SWING STATE

Pope “Mac” McCorkle, public policy professor

“North Carolina is in play this year but it is a must-win state for Trump. If Biden wins North Carolina, you can think of it as piercing Trump’s red wall. It would be comparable to Trump winning Wisconsin, Michigan or Pennsylvania in 2016. It is in play.”

“I can boldly predict that if Biden wins North Carolina, you’re probably going to see Biden win a lot of other swing states and it will probably be a signal that Biden has a big victory.”

 

ON THE ROLE YOUNG VOTERS MIGHT PLAY IN THE ELECTION

Deondra Rose, professor of public policy and political science

“Historically, young voters haven’t participated at the rates that we might hope. In 2014, a midterm election, only 22 percent of millennials showed up to vote. However, in 2018 we saw quite a significant surge in young voter participation. That year a full 42 percent of young people showed up to vote.”

“Right now, we’re seeing a whole lot of engagement in politics. Young people are talking about politics with their families, with their friends. They’re volunteering for campaigns. They’re also contributing money at higher rates than they did in 2016 and 2018. There’s a lot of enthusiasm.”

“(They’re paying attention to) health care. They’re paying attention to the climate and environment. They’re also paying attention to racism and racial justice.”

 

ON COVID AS A CHAOS AGENT IN THE ELECTION

John Aldrich

“It’s totally unprecedented. … That’s true across the board. It’s especially true for those who are least experienced – the younger voters, often minority voters as well. Learning how to negotiate this process is very complicated. There’s a lot of room for the two political parties … to provide assistance to various subgroups to help them turn out. If it’s done broadly, we could negotiate the uncertainty.”

 

ON HOW COVID HAS INFLUENCED THE NC GOVERNOR’S RACE

Pope “Mac” McCorkle

“It has catapulted Gov. Cooper into quite an advantageous situation, given the popularity of his handling of the COVID crisis. It’s really tough for Lt. Gov. Forest because there really isn’t another issue that Forest can find here. If you didn’t have the COVID crisis, this might be a much closer race.”

“There’s still a possibility, if and when things tighten a little at the federal level, they’ll tighten some in the governor’s race.”

 

ON NEW REGISTERED VOTERS IN NORTH CAROLINA

Pope “Mac” McCorkle

“In North Carolina … people who have filed as unaffiliated have tended to be more conservative than in other states. I do think the rise of independents … it does reflect a disconnect with the parties and adds to the uncertainty. And to the extent that young people … are especially more disproportionately filing as unaffiliated. You might think that might be an advantage to Democrats.”

“We might know how many people are voting Republican and voting Democrat, but it’s those undecided, swing, floating, unaffiliated voters – very few in number but still very important.”

Deondra Rose

“For young voters under the age of 40, among African Americans, it’s interesting to note the substantial increase in the number who identify as unaffiliated. They’re really eschewing party labels because oftentimes they don’t see the Democrat or Republican parties as capturing their preferences. That sends a very clear message to the tops of the ticket – particularly the Democrat Joe Biden – that they will have to work to turn out young voters of color who have historically affiliated with the Democratic Party.”

John Aldrich

“One of the consequences of registering as unaffiliated with either of the two major parties is that the major get-out-the-vote campaigns have become partisan-based. They tend to focus on turning out their base. So if you’re unaffiliated you’ll have less of that impetus to increase your turnout. So that induces another level of uncertainty in this.”

“It makes it more possible for the attraction of an individual candidate to make a larger difference for people who are unaffiliated with the parties.”

 

ON HOW YOUNG PEOPLE VIEW BIDEN’s VP PICK, SEN. KAMALA HARRIS

Deondra Rose

“For a number of Democratic Party identifiers, seeing the headliners at the top of the ticket … represent the diversity of the nation is a priority for many citizens, broadly speaking, young people in particular.”

“The selection of Sen. Harris was really intended to mobilize young voters and to help indicate the Democratic Party was serious about diversity. Sen. Harris is a black woman; she’s also a woman of Asian descent. These are two particularly substantial minority communities in the United States.”

“What we’re seeing is the Democratic Party recognizing the need to really reflect on and respond to the preferences of their base and to try to really generate excitement and get out the vote among younger affiliates.”

 

ON THE TILLIS/CUNNINGHAM US SENATE RACE

Mac McCorkle

“The Senate race will track the presidential race. If Biden wins, Cunningham’s going to win. If Trump wins in North Carolina, probably Tillis will win, although Tillis’ polling numbers … are very low for an incumbent. The latest Fox poll had him at 42 percent. That’s a heavy lift. Trump may be able to lift him on up if Trump gets some momentum going. But that Senate race is so dependent on what the presidential pattern says. You really have a generic Republican running against a generic Democrat in many respects.”

John Aldrich

“I imagine it being extremely close. It’s pretty unlikely Trump will carry the state by a lot. It’s unlikely Biden will carry the state by a lot. So very close numbers of small things will make a difference.”

 

ON STATE-LEVEL ELECTIONS AND FUTURE GERRYMANDERING

Pope “Mac” McCorkle

“It’s been somewhat remedied, the hyper-gerrymandering. But it still exists. If the Republicans hold onto the House and Senate, they will get to draw the maps. It will be under much heavier court supervision than before, but still they’ll get to draw the maps.”

“The best hope for Democrats at the state level is a big Cooper victory. Regardless of what’s happening at the federal level, if he wins big, that could set a trend for the Democrats. The problem for the Democrats is where they have to pick up seats. They’ve already captured the cities. They’re doing well in Wake and Mecklenburg. It’s not just in the rural white vote. It’s the exurban county votes, places that are metropolitan but outside of Charlotte.”

“Counties like Union and Cabarrus and Gaston, and [around] Wake, Johnston and Franklin and Alamance County. So those are the areas Democrats have to turn.”  

John Aldrich

“Should it get close, should it be a big vote for Cooper, it would be a strong signal that the Republicans are going to be under close scrutiny. They may as a result tend to narrow down their use of pure gerrymandering. After 2010 they were really overt about it, and sort of proudly so.”

 

ON HOW RACE PROTESTS IMPACT VOTING

Deondra Rose

“We’re paying attention to these issues at a very high level. There’s a great level of frustration that we continually see the deaths of unarmed black men, murders of unarmed black men. It’s almost a monthly occurrence. We’re seeing lawmakers increasingly vocal about the need for change. Citizens are seeing that activism is most useful when it translates to institutional change. I do think this is something we’ll see factor into a lot of voting decisions.”

 

ON PRESIDENT TRUMP ENCOURAGING NORTH CAROLINIANS TO VOTE TWICE, WHICH IS ILLEGAL

Pope “Mac” McCorkle

“It just continues President Trump’s strategy of calculated chaos. To raise questions, to raise uncertainty and doubt, which could make people not want to vote.”

“It was kind of vintage Trump. I don’t know (if) it will have resonance in and of itself, but it’s just classic Trump … trying to foment chaos.”

Deondra Rose

“Seemingly offhanded remarks like that, President Trump could say those things and assume they really won’t carry much weight. But that kind of comment could be just an indicator for people ready to move past this presidency, to remind them they’re looking for an adult in the room.”

“If I were advising the Trump campaign, I’d suggest they’d refrain from those kinds of remarks.”

 

ON HOW THIS PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN DIFFERS FROM ALL THE OTHERS

John Aldrich

“In a traditional year, like say from 1787 to, oh, I don’t know, 2016, this competition has been conducted in, ‘Here’s why you should vote for me. I’m the person who will make our Democracy stronger.”

“Trump’s approach is to say, ‘Vote for me under any circumstances, even if I make Democracy weaker.’ ”

“That’s what I think makes him so concerning. It’s designed not to preserve and protect and extend our Democratic system, but to preserve and protect and extend Trump’s administration.”

 

ON USPS DISRUPTION: DO NORTH CAROLINIANS CARE?

Pope “Mac” McCorkle

“I fear we’re going to see some chaos. Now, North Carolina has a pretty strong early voting system. But I fear that on Nov. 4, the day after the election, things are going to be unclear to say the least. We’re going to be waiting for a lot of mail-in ballots. I fear that’ll be a big issue not just in North Carolina but nationally.”

“I’m very fearful of the problems and the uncertainty and perhaps even chaos that could result from bad mail service.”

John Aldrich

“It’s very unlikely that all the ballots will be counted by midnight Nov. 3. It’s very unlikely it’ll all be known. It’s possible the presidential race will be known if it’s one-sided. There certainly will be close cases that may take days, weeks, possibly even months to sort out. This is a really serious problem for people watching the unfolding of what seems like a third-world election.”

 

Meet the experts:

John Aldrich
John Aldrich is a professor of political science at Duke, where he specializes in American politics and behavior. He has written and contributed to several books, the most recent of which is “Change and Continuity in the 2016 and 2018 Elections.”

Pope “Mac” McCorkle
Mac McCorkle is a professor of the practice at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke, and director of the Polis: Center for Politics. McCorkle has been an issues consultant to political candidates, state governments and others for more than 25 years.

Deondra Rose
Deondra Rose is an assistant professor of public policy and political science at the Sanford School, and director of research at Polis. She researches U.S. public, social and higher education policy, American political development and behavior, identity politics and inequality.

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Duke experts on a variety of topics related the election and politics can be found here.