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2022 Voter Turnout Report

 2022 Midterms: How North Carolinians Turned Out

A new analysis of last year’s election in North Carolina shows that white voters achieved their highest rate of turnout for a midterm election in more than three decades, despite the fact that the overall rate of voter participation declined in 2022 from 2018.

Another surprising fact: white Democrats in North Carolina turned out to vote at a higher rate (63%) than white Republicans (61%). But Republicans won the US Senate, state court, and key legislative contests in part because there are nearly twice as many white Republicans as white Democrats in North Carolina. In other words, it would be a mistake to once again simply blame diminished Black voter turnout for losses by Democrats.

White unaffiliated voters also participated at their highest rate (52%) for a midterm election in decades.

Meanwhile, even though Cheri Beasley, a Black woman, was at the top of every ballot in the state, less than 42% of Black registered voters cast a ballot – the lowest turnout of Black voters since 2010.

“When you learn who felt energized to vote and who didn’t, the story of 2022 is as much about race as it is about a Red or Blue wave,” said Carol Moreno Cifuentes, Policy Manager of the voting rights organization Democracy North Carolina, which conducted the analysis from data at the State Board of Elections.

“The polarizing debates over critical race theory, abortion rights, gun regulation, and January 6th hearings likely energized white voters, regardless of party or gender, and they were highly motivated to have their voices heard,” Cifuentes said. “But these issues didn’t engage Black voters as much, and both major parties failed to invest in the messaging and on the ground operations needed to elevate their interest in voting. The parties and major campaigns seemed to either take Black voters for granted or ignore them.

“When you learn who felt energized to vote and who didn’t, the story of 2022 is as much about race as it is about a Red or Blue wave.”

Key Findings

Other indicators highlight the turnout gap between white and non-white voters in 2022:

  • In Wake and Durham counties, nearly two thirds (64%) of white registered voters cast ballots, compared to about 46% of Black voters and 34% of Hispanic/Latine voters. “You had near-presidential election excitement among white voters in these two urban counties,” Cifuentes said, “but when less than half of Black voters turnout, you can’t ignore the racial divide and the barriers that caused it.”
  • A county-by-county chart of turnout rates in 2018 and 2022 shows the near uniform pattern of turnout increasing for whites but declining for people of color, regardless of region or the county’s size, racial makeup, or partisan profile.
  • Overall, the 16 percentage point gap between white turnout (58%) and Black turnout (42%) in 2022 was twice the 8 point gap in 2018 and larger than any other statewide election in this century. If 58% of the registered Black citizens in 2022 had voted instead of only 42%, it would have added 244,000 more ballots from the Black community. However, it would be dangerously inaccurate to conclude that the low Black turnout caused the Democrats’ losses in 2022. Missing white voters are a much bigger problem for Democrats; if the Democratic Party had as many white registered voters as the Republican Party in North Carolina, and 58% of them voted, it would have added 557,000 more ballots from Democrats in 2022.
  • From 2018 to 2022, Black turnout dropped by 9 percentage points in Mecklenburg County, 8 points in Buncombe, 7 points in Guilford, 6 points in Cumberland and Pitt, 5 points in New Hanover, and 4 points in Forsyth.
  • Statewide, only 26% of registered voters who identify as Hispanic/Latine voted in 2022, a sharp drop from 35% in 2018.
  • Participation among Asian-American voters, which increased in 2018 and 2020, also fell in 2022 (39%).
  • The racial divide in 2022 was particularly stark among young voters: registered white youth aged 18-25 voted at roughly twice the rate of Black and Brown youth (30% white vs. 16% Black vs. 14% Hispanic/Latine).
  • The turnout rate for Indigenous/Native American voters remained consistent, at 38% in 2018 compared to 37% in  2022.

“As a nonpartisan voting rights organization, Democracy North Carolina works hard to reduce barriers to voting, especially among people of color,” said Cheryl Carter, Co-Executive Director of Democracy NC. “But we also recognize that voter participation is heavily influenced by robust partisan organizing and messaging, as well as campaign money and the candidate’s personal appeal.”

To illustrate her point, she noted that in several counties where Black voters turned out at rates well above the state average of 42%, a Black candidate running for county sheriff mounted a substantial campaign. These counties include Bladen (Black turnout = 51%), Franklin (51%), Granville (51%), and Person (52%). In Granville County, the Black Democratic candidate Robert Fountain beat a white Republican and a white Unaffiliated candidate to become that county’s first Black sheriff.

In Columbus County, where the controversial sheriff Jody Greene won a racially charged election, 48% of Black voters cast ballots – a 1 percentage point increase over their 2018 turnout rate. There are 59 counties in North Carolina with more than 4,000 registered Black voters, but only one – Columbus – experienced a higher Black turnout in 2022 than in 2018.

In 2010 – the midterm after Barack Obama’s first election – Black voters turned out statewide at a lower rate than white voters (40% vs. 46%), but they voted at higher rates in several counties where Black candidates ran grassroots campaigns for sheriff, including Bladen (58%), Jones (51%), and Wilson (48%).

Using the arrow in the far left corner of the interactive maps below, you can look at turnout among Black and white voters (Democrat and Republican) in the 2018 and 2022 midterm elections.