Much has been made about the role that white voters will play in this year’s election, especially those without a college education who are seen as the backbone of Donald Trump's support.
With the continuing division of the electorate based on a number of factors (partisanship, gender, age, race, and ethnicity), it is not surprising that the continued coalition-building by both parties are honing in on discrete groups that have traditionally been core groups.
For Republicans, white voters have been the central pillar of the party's electoral coalition. In 2012's exit polls, Mitt Romney received 59 percent of the white vote, while Obama received 70 percent of the Hispanic/Latino vote, improving from his 66 percent in 2008’s exit polls.
Trump’s campaign has appeared to be focusing on white voters, while seeming to alienate minority voters. With the necessity of North Carolina to be in Trump’s column if there is any hope of a Republican White House victory, taking a look at the state’s white voters may show whether they can truly be mobilized to keep North Carolina with a slight reddish tint come November.
In North Carolina’s last presidential election, 4.69 million registered voters were non-Hispanic white, with 3.2 million of them showing up to cast ballots in November, 2012 (a turnout rate of 69 percent). In comparison, black voters turned out at 70 percent, while all Hispanic/Latino voters had only a 54 percent turnout rate.
As of July 30 of this year, 4.62 million registered voters in the state are non-Hispanic white, or 70 percent of the state-wide pool.
In breaking down the percentages across the counties, the following map shows that highest percentages in the mountains, while the lowest concentrations in the traditional majority-minority counties in the southeastern and northeastern areas of the state and in urban areas of the Piedmont.
As of July 30, there are 72,731 fewer whites on the voter rolls than four years ago, a decrease of 2 percent state-wide, even though the July 30th overall registered voter pool has now matched the total 2012 November voter pool number. The following map shows the county percentages of gain or loss in white registered voters.
Eighteen of North Carolina’s 100 counties saw an increase in white registered voters from November 2012 to the end of July 2016. Seven saw an increase of greater than 5 percent, while the remaining 11 counties saw growth of less than 5 percent.
Wake County, one of the two largest counties in the state, saw a 1 percent increase, or 3,447, in white registered voters since the last presidential election.
Another 11 counties saw a flat percentage change in its white registered voter pool.
The remaining 71 NC counties saw decreases white voters since the 2012 presidential election, with three counties—Cumberland, Washington, and Nash—experiencing a 10 percent or greater decrease.
If Trump is indeed to increase support among white voters, he will be doing that against a population trend that is moving against his campaign strategy. He may use this group, in combination with those voters who were his main supporters in the state’s March primary – that being non-college educated voters.
In an analysis of different factors to help explain Trump's primary performance in the state, the greatest explanatory factor seemed to be an inverse relationship between Trump's county vote and the percentage of those who hold bachelor’s degrees. This probably shows the power of Trump’s appeal to (his descriptor) the "poorly educated" in this state. One has to think that the demographic of non-Hispanic, non-college degree whites is at the core of his support.
Four years ago, the Republican Party diagnosed its 2012 failure to win the White House with a call to expand their electoral coalition beyond their traditional older, white, male boundaries. Like in many other respects, Trump is seeking to defy the wisdom of data in limiting his appeal.
Only November's numbers, both in terms of ballots and demographics, will show the wisdom of Trump’s campaign strategy.