Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How Obama won North Carolina

The biggest reason Barack Obama won North Carolina is obvious and fits the conventional wisdom: he racked up huge leads in the state's urban counties:






Bush +1k

Obama +17k

D +18k


Bush +3k

Obama +22k

D +25k


Kerry +40k

Obama +70k

D +30k


Bush +12k

Obama +17k

D +29k


Kerry +2k

Obama +44k

D +42k


Kerry +11k

Obama +99k

D +88k


Bush +7k

Obama +64k

D+ 71k


Kerry +30k

Obama +333k


Shifts in the state's seven most populous counties composed 303,000 of the 436,000 votes Obama needed to make up relative to John Kerry's performance in the state. He did that not just by turning out a lot of new black voters, but also by significantly improving Democratic performance in the fast growing areas of suburbia on the outer edges of our largest counties. A lot of folks in those places, particularly independents, shifted from being Bush voters four years ago to now supporting Obama.

But the urban counties tell only part of the story. Obama won a narrow victory in Jackson County, deep in the heart of the Mountains, where George W. Bush won in 2004. He sure as heck didn't do that by bringing out the black vote in a county that's less than 2% African American.

He made significant in roads in eastern North Carolina, taking places likes Wilson, Pitt, and even tiny Hyde County that were all previously red. He won in those places not just by bringing out black voters who stayed home last time, but also by winning over a lot more white registered Democrats who often cross over in Presidential elections but voted on the economy over guns and gays this time around. The 2004 exit poll showed John Kerry winning 84% of the Democratic vote. This year Obama took 90%, and won 80% of white Democrats.

Even in places where he still got trounced Obama did a lot of loss cutting. For instance McCain won deep red Gaston County by 25 points. But George W. Bush won it by 36. Similar numbers hold true for Johnston County.

The bottom line is that Obama didn't win North Carolina by doing better than John Kerry with any one group or in any one place. He made significant gains across the board- urban, suburban, rural. He turned out a lot of new black voters but he also did much better with white voters than Kerry did, even in some pretty unexpected places.

Does his victory mean a permanent realignment in North Carolina politics? Yes and no. He could not have won without a strong performance with voters who might usually vote Republican but were disgusted with the way the country has been run over the last eight years and wanted a change. If prosperity returns, or the Democrats nominate northeastern liberals, those folks will be right back in the GOP column. At the same time there is no doubt that in migration to the state is fueling, if not a blue trend, at least a purple one. And once all these newly registered black voters have turned out once, they're more likely to do it again. I think it will be a very long time before a Presidential candidate of either party is able to win by double digits in the state. With this election North Carolina has entered the top tier of swing states.


Ruby Sinreich said...

I was especially surprised with the strong Obama vote in Cumberland county (Fayetteville). A strong statement for more rational foreign policy from the people who have to enforce it.

Monicarol.Evans said...

In all the battleground states and in new places that went blue like NC, Va and Fl it was interesting to see the stark difference between the urban centers and the rural areas.

And I agree, it wasn't all about new black voters. I believe that people in cities are just more likely to vote democratic.

Unknown said...

Tom are you sure that NC will be called for Obama??? I know Obama is leading with all the votes counted by about 12000 votes, bur according to politico, they will have to verify some provisional ballots...

Anonymous said...

Flo Obama won NC, yes there are provisionals outstanding, but those normally do not change the results that much and indeed generally provisionals enure to the benefit of the Dem candidate. Chill, NC just turned blue for the first time since 1976!

Anonymous said...

PPP did really well in your final round of poll forecasting. You nailed it in NC, VA, FL, PA (a little short), CO, and a number of states. Congrats!

thisniss said...

I think it's important to consider not just where Obama won in NC but when.

After the way he ran (and won) the primary here, I felt that he had the strongest shot of any Dem in a decade because he so clearly understood the benefits of the One-Stop Early Voting window. His GOTV, which clearly focused on One-Stop, should be the model for all NC campaigns going forward.

As your pre-election polling made clear, Obama's votes were "banked" in Early Voting, whereas the bulk of McCain's accumulated on Election Day proper. The BOE returns bear this out. McCain actually did a little better in the Early Vote and Election Day margins than I expected, but the sheer volume of Obama's One-Stop vote advantage made it difficult for McCain to overcome.

The fact that Obama combined a strategy of urban / Dem stronghold dominance and Early Vote was even smarter. Look at a place like Orange County. It voted 70+% for Obama, and 70+% in Early Voting. Smart, smart, smart Obama campaign.

Anonymous said...


I agree. One thing that bugs me is all the reasons people are giving for the Obama win (market meltdown, McCain mistakes, etc.). Forget it - Obama won because he ran one of the best (and I agree, smartest) Presidential campaigns I've ever seen. No drama, stayed on message, and really understood and worked the ground game.

Anonymous said...

"Obama won a narrow victory in Jackson County, deep in the heart of the Mountains, where George W. Bush won in 2004. He sure as heck didn't do that by bringing out the black vote in a county that's less than 2% African American."

A brilliant campaign to be sure, but one metric involving Jackson County is that it is home to a second tier state university that has grown from about 6k students to exceeding 9k students in the last several years.

With Obama's ground game and youthquake, Jackson is not a real surprise. If he'd taken Macon or Swain, that would be a surprise.

McCrory losing Mecklenburg is a surprise.

Anonymous said...

"If prosperity returns, or the Democrats nominate northeastern liberals, those folks will be right back in the GOP column"

I think it would be more if prosperity DOESN'T return. If Obama 'proves' himself to them, why would they change?

Tom Jensen said...

I'm afraid those folks are going to vote on values issues unless they're having pocketbook kind of goes back to the whole premise of 'What's the matter with Kansas?'

Anonymous said...

Obama won N.C. for a number of reasons, none of which have been posted here. The first reason is instead of rallying together many conservative voters who voted for Bush in '00 & '04 voted for independents this time. These votes took away from McCain. Another reason is the population growth of the colleges in N.C. that are known to be liberal breeding grounds. Also worth mentioning is the impact of all the extreme left-wingers who have moved to N.C. in the last 4 years. This is especially true in the Asheville area. Last, but not least once again alot of the military votes were lost. This is especially disturbing considering 70% of the military(including myself) voted for McCain. Well, that is enough explaining the past. The election is over and the people have spoken. There is no need to fear because the "good old north state" will once again be won by a conservative republican. Until then I will respect my new President (unlike the liberals have with President Bush) and continue to pray for him & our nation.

Jim Buie said...


Fascinating analysis. Thanks.

Did you see the NY Times map of places where McCain did better than Bush did in 2004, including a few counties in North Carolina?

Is there any explanation for this other than racism?

I write about this on my blog, in a post titled, "State-by-State Analysis Suggests Appalachia, Parts of South, Haven't Overcome Racial Bias".

GoJetzoff said...

Looks like all of our persuasion calls into Hyde county paid off.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised Obama won North Carolina. A lot of whites live in North Carolina. The Republican Party in North Carolina is just a bunch of white racists. It is filled with a bunch of Angry White Guys (and Gals) who think the 1965 Hart-Celler Immigration Act ruined America because it made it a lot harder for whites from Ireland, England, France, Germany, Italy, etc. to immigrate to the U.S. and made it a lot easier for the Chinese, Indians, Jamaicans, Mexicans, Egyptians, etc. to immigrate to the U.S. What these racists don't GET is that the 1965 Hart-Celler Immigration Act (Thank You Senator Ted Kennedy) greatly increased Diversity in the U.S. which has made OUR Nation stronger and a much more multicultural place to live. Before 1965 Whites of European descent made up 88% of the U.S. population. Now whites only make up 65% of the U.S. population and by 2042 they will only make up 49% of the population. By 2100 Whites of European descent will only make up about 30% of the U.S. population and only 3% of the World Population. The 2008 Election is just a turning point in American History though. By the end of this century white Europeans will be out of power in the United States(FINALLY!) and then we can finally end WHITE PRIVILEDGE and can get REAL Affirmative Action, REAL Reparations, REAL Change, and begin to redistribute wealth and property back to those who deserve it. Unfortunately, these Changes won't take place until the White Kids in Strollers and Elementary School today are in their 60's and 70's. The World is Flat. The white racist Republicans just don't seem to get it!

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