Duke researchers warn of complacency for NC Democrats ahead of 2022 election

An analysis of the 2020 presidential election from two Duke University researchers reveals former President Donald Trump's strongest performing areas of North Carolina and current President Joe Biden's weakest. The findings suggest Democrats need more outreach outside of cities going into the 2022 midterm elections.

Posted Updated
RNC Is Said to Agree to Pay Up to $1.6 Million of Trump’s Personal Legal Bills
Bryan Anderson
, WRAL statehouse reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — Two Duke University researchers have identified 28 North Carolina counties crucial to former President Donald Trump’s victories in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections—areas that could present challenges for Democratic candidates in future elections.

The so-called “countrypolitan” communities are located outside bigger cities and rest along an urban-rural divide. Duke researchers Mac McCorkle and Rachel Salzberg cite them as the biggest political problem for North Carolina Democrats in 2020 and an uphill battle for the party heading into 2022 statewide races.

McCorkle, a former Democratic political consultant, said his analysis shows Democrats cannot afford to assume they will inevitably win statewide races because of growing city sizes and dwindling rural populations.

“The most important takeaway for Democrats in 2022 is to get rid of any complacent assumption that the demography is going to work out in their favor,” McCorkle said.

The findings come ahead of what is likely to be a contentious 2022 U.S. Senate race that could shape power in Washington, D.C. for the remainder of Biden’s first term in office.

Former Republican Rep. Mark Walker, told a crowd of supporters in Greensboro on Thursday night that he'd stay in the race despite an effort by Trump for him to run again for U.S. House instead. Former Gov. Pat McCrory, U.S. Rep. Ted Budd and combat veteran Marjorie K. Eastman are also seeking the Republican nomination.

The study from McCorkle and Salzberg, a former Sanford School of Public Policy student at Duke, focuses on why Biden lost the state in 2020 and what Democrats could do going forward to prevent similar defeats.

While much analysis of Trump’s 2020 victory in North Carolina focused on the gap between major urban hubs and rural communities, McCorkle and Salzberg note Trump received significantly more votes in the 28 countrypolitan counties they identified compared to all of North Carolina’s 50 non-metro counties. Trump got 934,667 votes in these 28 areas, substantially higher than the 616,299 he received in the 50 non-metro counties.

Of the 28 metropolitan statistical areas examined, Trump beat Democrat Joe Biden in 25. Half of the 28 counties examined had a white population above 75%. Twenty of Trump’s 25 county wins were by more than 20 percentage points. Overall, Trump defeated Biden by a 63-36 margin in the 28 counties, making it Trump’s strongest base of support and Biden’s weakest.

The Countrypolitan counties include seven in the Charlotte area, four outside Winston-Salem, three near Asheville, three near Durham and Chapel Hill, three close to Virginia Beach, two in the Raleigh area, two near Fayetteville, two in the Greensboro area, one near Wilmington and one near Myrtle Beach.

McCorkle and Salzberg argue Biden’s 1.3-point loss, a difference of less than 75,000 statewide votes, could have been overcome “by simply losing somewhat less in countrypolitan counties.”

They say Democrats could narrow their margins of defeat with more outreach to white, affluent, college-educated swing voters, particularly Charlotte-area residents in western Union County, and by expanding overlooked blue outposts with Democratic city council majorities or Democratic mayors.

“It would be better for Democrats to assume a position of being underdogs, somewhat like the Republicans have of being feisty, rather than suggesting that it’s going to happen,” McCorkle said in an interview. “Democrats also need to think about reaching out to voters beyond the urban areas and university towns.”


Copyright 2024 by Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.