It was hard enough to handicap presidential-year elections in North Carolina when it was still a red state — a holdover from the Southern Strategy that saw registered Democrats in the state outnumber Republicans 2 to 1. We had a majority Democrat General Assembly for 100 years, but from 1968 until 2008, with an exception for the Jimmy Carter year of 1976, voted for Republicans in every presidential contest.
For most of the 2008 election, North Carolina was still considered a safe red state, almost right up until Barack Obama won it.
The Obama Effect here took the form of increased voter registration, enough to do the job in 2008, but not in 2012, when on the way to re-election he narrowly lost the state to Mitt Romney.
But Obama himself was an anomaly, galvanizing large swaths of his party in a way we hadn’t seen in presidential politics since maybe Reagan and the evangelicals. It began with the primary, which was in May and, for the first time in decades, actually made a difference as to the nomination because of that year’s drawn-out contest.
Until the week before the vote, all the major polls gave the state to Clinton in 2008, though in the end she lost by almost 15 points.
This year those same polls are all again giving the state to Hillary Clinton in the March 15 primary; High Point University has her beating Bernie Sanders by 26 points. Even the smart money at FiveThirtyEight gives Sanders just a 3 percent chance of taking the NC primary.
So it should be Clinton — at least in our state; the voters have yet to declare a clear frontrunner on the left. And the Republican primary winner, according to all the leading polls, should be Donald Trump, who scored a +9 in Elon University’s polling.
FiveThirtyEight, not technically a poll, favors Marco Rubio, giving him a 52 percent shot at NC as of last week when the candidate passed Trump. And that’s just this week’s data, subject to change at any time.
It goes to show that prognostication is getting increasingly more complicated in North Carolina, as the demographic shifts and the culture evolves. The numbers themselves keep changing too — the number of registered voters in the state dropped by 200,000 after a purge in 2015, and there are now almost as many unaffiliated voters in the state as there are registered Republicans, who themselves are starting to catch up to registered Democrats in number.
If nothing else, it’s evidence that things are changing in this state. But we will need to see the March returns before we can truly discern which way it’s going.