Early voting is well underway, and Election Day is November 6. Here’s what I’ll be looking for between now and the end of Election Night.
1) Will turnout continue at a presidential pace?
Through the first week of early voting, the percentage of people coming to the polls hasn’t been like your typical midterm election. It’s been more like a presidential election year. Increased turnout changes the dynamics of what are typically low-interest, low-information races.
This is doubly unusual in North Carolina this year in our “blue moon” election. There is no statewide race on the ballot.
Of course, early voters could simply cannibalize Election Day voting, which isn’t a bad thing. The parties could have just done a good job of getting everybody out early.
2) How much different will U.S. House districts perform than 2016?
A few months ago, the political world expected a “blue wave” that would see congressional districts that went solidly for Donald Trump two years ago suddenly elect Democratic representatives. Even districts red by 6 or 7 points were suddenly in play.
The national media’s narrative now is that the blue wave has slowed to a trickle. Will so-called “toss-up” races from a month ago — like Dan McCready vs Mark Harris in the 9th — actually come down to the wire?
3) Can Democrats make progress in General Assembly races?
Democrats have put a national emphasis on statehouse races. Former President Obama and former attorney general Eric Holder have crisscrossed the country making endorsements and raising money. Here at home, N.C. Sen. Jeff Jackson has led the charge for Democrats in gaining seats in the state legislature.
Only a few seats keep Democrats from breaking the GOP supermajority in both chambers. But this will be tougher than it looks, and without the benefit of a blue wave, they might not make any progress.
If Democrats do break the supermajority, however, you can expect the focus to immediately turn to 2020 and the last election before redistricting once again. If they don’t, they’re facing at least another decade with districts drawn by their opposition party.
4) Will negative ads pay off for suburban Republicans?
With the possibility of a blue wave, more Republicans in more districts have been running scared this year. That’s shown up in a flood of negative advertising in areas that were once considered safely red.
Will this wave of negative mailers have the intended effect and keep districts in the incumbents’ hands? Or will voters already primed to cross party lines use that as just another reason?
5) Will amendment opposition sink city bonds?
Democrats have coined a really catchy phrase to convince voters to oppose the proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot: “Nix All Six.”
But some cities are worried that this will hurt their chances of passing bond packages and other local initiatives. That comes down to ballot order: The municipal issues will come right after the amendment questions. Will Democratic voters just start checking “No” all the way down?
6) Will we see upsets in District and Superior Court judicial races?
This year, every judicial race will be partisan — giving voters who once might have skipped over these low-information races a reason to cast their vote one way or the other. My theory is that this will help at least a few underdogs unseat incumbents.
This could be especially true in Wake and Mecklenburg counties, where District Court judges formerly elected countywide are now split up into districts.
7) Will Chris Anglin actually beat Barbara Jackson?
All the political wrangling done to keep Chis Anglin from being listed as a Republican on the ballot might have backfired bigtime. In looking at the polls, his candidacy has succeded in splitting the Republican vote and giving Democratic candidate Anita Earls a comfortable margin.
But in some of the polls I’ve seen, Anglin is actually outpolling the incumbent Barbara Jackson. A lot of this has to be based on name recognition, and voters may have been asked about this before doing their research. But if Jackson comes in third in this race, that would set off alarm bells.
8) How reliable are General Assembly polls?
Speaking of polls, technology has made it easier than ever to make these happen. But in a post-2016 world, we always have to take polls with a grain of salt. I’m very curious to find out whether polls for General Assembly races are even remotely reliable.
For example, a summer poll showed Jennifer Mangrum only 6 points behind Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger in a district that voted for Donald Trump by 36 points. That can’t be accurate …. can it?
9) Will voters make it through the entire ballot?
For a mid-term election without a Senate race, this year’s ballot is awfully long. Will there be a drop-off in the number of people casting ballots as the pages turn?
Whichever way it goes could lead to some legislative tweaking to the order in which ballot items appear.
[Still need to vote? Here’s your complete guide to the 2018 elections]