A woman fills out a ballot at a polling station in downtown Wilmington on Tuesday afternoon. Mark Darrough / Carolina Public Press

Despite expert predictions that voters would break turnout records in the 2022 General Election, North Carolinians cast fewer ballots Nov. 8 than in 2018.

According to the N.C. State Board of Elections, roughly 53% — 3,755,778 — of eligible voters went to the polls during the 2018 General Election. This year, that percentage was about 51%, or 3,745, 547 North Carolina voters.

Source: North Carolina State Board of Elections Compiled by Carolina Public Press

Check out Carolina Public Press’ coverage of the 2022 General Election, in which voters elected a U.S. Senator and several state and local offices.

The dip in turnout for the 2022 general elections comes two years after the election in which North Carolinians cast the most ballots cast since at least 1972.

Roughly 75% of eligible voters — more than 5.5 million — voted in the 2020 general election. That’s a larger percentage than general elections from 1972 to 2016, when voter turnout ranged between 58% and 68%.

Why the decrease?

In an article published Oct. 22, political analyst Nathan Gonzales described former President Donald J. Trump as the “turnout engine” for the 2018 and 2020 elections — meaning Trump inspired masses of voters to turn up to vote, either for or against him.

“Republicans wanted to support and defend Trump, while Democrats vehemently opposed him. …Two enthusiastic parties are a key ingredient for record-breaking turnout, and that’s what is likely to happen again this November,” Gonzales wrote in October.

Gonzales and other political researchers predicted that the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, a ruling that gave states the power to restrict abortion access, would inspire great numbers of voters.

While voters in many states voted — in favor, in most cases — on abortion rights, Roe v. Wade did not have the predicted outcome on voter turnout.

Only 10 states saw higher voter turnout percentages in 2022 compared with 2018, an analysis by the Washington Post shows. The remaining states, including North Carolina, did not keep the voting momentum that researchers predicted.

Low voter turnout did not sway North Carolina from keeping to its Republican patterns — electing Republican Ted Budd to the U.S. Senate.

The reason for the drop in voter turnout in the Tar Heel State will be difficult to identify until the state releases demographic voter data which will be released within a few weeks, according to the state. which will reveal trends in voter age, race, ethnicity and affiliation.

A likely cause of the decrease could be voter apathy or lack of trust in the government and its processes, as NPR discovered just after the 2018 election.

North Carolina voters expressed similar sentiments in a Carolina Public Press survey asking unaffiliated voters to tell their reasons for registering as such.

North Carolina voter registration by partisan affiliation, 2010-2021. Source: Ballotpedia

Voter turnout predictions

But some voter groups, such as those ages 18-29, that are typically considered to be politically apathetic or not engaged or interested in government are not expected to have voted Nov. 8.

A Tufts University study predicts 27% of Americans in this age group voted Tuesday. That’s the second-highest percentage of young voters since 1994 — falling just behind the record 31% in 2018.

During the 2020 election, 60% of registered voters ages 18-25 voted, and 65% ages 26-40 voted, according to the N.C. State Board of Elections. The groups accounted for about 11% of total North Carolina voters that year.

Another voter group anticipated to take to the polls in large numbers is North Carolina’s Latino population. In April, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials predicted that the 2022 Latino and Hispanic voter turnout would be 94% higher than in 2014.

Analysts credit the surge in registration among Latino voters, who typically vote Democrat, to the election of Trump.

“The actual Latino vote could well exceed this projection if candidates and parties invest in meaningful outreach efforts to engage the community from the start,” NALEO CEO Arturo Vargas wrote in April.

State Board of Elections election data from the 2020 election showed 59% of registered Latino and Hispanic voters cast ballots. In total, Hispanic and Latino voters made up roughly 2% of total voters in 2020.

Turnout by county

At least half of all eligible voters in North Carolina’s 100 counties voted in the Nov. 8 election, state election data shows.

Chatham County had the greatest voter turnout with about 65% of residents voting Nov. 8 and electing Democrats to nearly every office. Onslow County had the lowest percentage with roughly 37% of eligible voters making it to the polls to reelect Rep. George Cleveland to his 10th term in the state legislature.

There was little differentiation between turnout percentages in rural and urban counties — both Chatham and Onslow are considered “urban” as they contain a metropolitan city, according to the U.S. Census Bureau classification of rural and urban areas.

Roughly 50% of eligible voters in the 30 counties the state classifies as “urban” and 51% in the 70 labeled “rural” cast ballots Nov. 8.

In all, however, residents in rural counties made up just 25% of North Carolina’s total voters.

Other trends by demographic data will be available in the next month or so, state Board of Elections spokesperson Patrick Gannon said.

“We are not able to compile that chart until all 100 counties finalize their voter histories, which typically takes several weeks after the election,” Gannon emailed Carolina Public Press Nov. 10.

Until then, it’s difficult to draw conclusions about which, if any, voter groups ushered North Carolina into its new Republican state leadership.

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Shelby Harris a former Carolina Public Press reporter. To reach the Carolina Public Press newsroom, email news@carolinapublicpress.org.

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  1. I’m very interested in understanding the mindset of eligible voters who forgo the right to help determine how and by whom they are governed. It will be very disappointing to learn that once again voter apathy is a major factor in lower than expected turnout. Perhaps making voting mandatory is not such a bad idea after all…