Split-ticket voting leads to mix of Democratic, Republican wins in NC

Posted November 9, 2016
Updated November 10, 2016

Gov. Pat McCrory, left, and Attorney General Roy Cooper debate the issues in the gubernatorial campaign on Oct. 11, 2016.

— After months as a purple state, North Carolina tipped into the red column Tuesday night.

While the numbers were close, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump pulled ahead with 50 percent of the vote, but those Trump supporters did not necessarily vote Republican down the ballot.

Voters in North Carolina sent Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr back to Washington for his third term, and Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest was re-elected.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper won all of the counties presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won, plus four extra counties that voted for Trump. Cooper's home county of Nash, plus Granville, Jackson and New Hanover, which was hit hard by the end of film incentives and by House Bill 2, all preferred Cooper.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory got fewer votes in many counties than Trump did – 62,902 fewer votes statewide – while Cooper got 119,072 more votes statewide than Clinton, a percentage point or two in most counties.

Those numbers indicate that some Trump voters split their tickets and voted for Cooper.

"Even with the Republican tide, there were enough voters that wanted to split their ticket to be against him is how I would read it," said longtime Democratic political analyst Mac McCorkle."It’s pretty extraordinary."

McCorkle, now teaching at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy, said North Carolinians often voted split tickets in decades past but not in recent elections.

"We have more and more trended, like all other states, to highly polarized straight-ticket Democrat and Republican voting. That still was the trend here," McCorkle said. "In historic terms, the split apparently toward Cooper was not that great, but it is that great compared to current conditions where the votes are so ideologically polarized."

In another unusual outcome, Democratic Supreme Court candidate Mike Morgan unseated incumbent Republican Bob Edmunds by nearly 10 points, even though all five Court of Appeals races went to the GOP.

McCorkle said the fact that Supreme Court candidates, unlike Court of Appeals candidates, are not given partisan labels on the ballot under state law may have led to some voter confusion.

"How a split ticket happened there? It may have been ballot position. I don't know," McCorkle said, referring to the fact that Morgan was listed above Edmunds on the ballot. "That one is probably the biggest stumper of the night."

On the Council of State, Republicans beat two sitting Democrats, Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson and Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin. But two other sitting Democrats appear to have kept their seats, State Auditor Beth Wood and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall.

"There was not that much split-ticket voting," McCorkle explained. "But there was some very creative split-ticket voting on the margins here that is going to be very perplexing for anybody to completely understand."

The vote counts will not be finalized until Nov. 18.


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  • Catherine Edwards Nov 14, 2016
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    The NC republicans took away the straight ticket option. Apparently to their detriment.

  • Benjamin Kite Nov 10, 2016
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    Edmunds loss is easy. He was the judge who ruled constitutional the jerrymandering and redistricting which was ruled unconstitutional in federal court. That proved his partiality, and thus that he was unfit for the job.

  • Sheila Moore Nov 10, 2016
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    Everyone should be voting split ticket. If you don't, it means you are voting by party, not by the qualifications and characteristics of each individual candidate.

  • Brian Green Nov 9, 2016
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    Those numbers could mean anything. Johnson or Stein voters could have voted for Cooper making up the difference.