Monday numbers: A closer look at some surprising facts about 2020 voter turnout

By: - February 1, 2021 5:30 am

Voter turnout was higher in last year’s general election among most demographic groups, but it barely changed from 2016 for young Black voters. Indeed, data from the NC State Board of Elections paint a sobering picture of the low turnout rate among young Black voters aged 18-40.

For Black people aged 18-25, the turnout rate was just 49% — that’s 12% lower than the 61% who turned out in 2012.  Similarly, for Blacks aged 26-40, the turnout percentage dropped from 63% to 55% during this same time period. Meanwhile, turnout among this age group across all races increased from 55% to 60%.

The downward trend of turnout among young Black voters is consistent with lower participation in battleground states, according to the Black Swing Voter Project polls in July 2020. Those results showed that only 46% of Black voters aged 18-29 said they would probably or likely vote, compared to over 70% for the 45 and older group. The poll surveyed 1,215 Black people in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia.

Marcus Bass, deputy director of NC Black Alliance, said low voter turnout does not equate to apathy. He said that Black voters suffer from historical disenfranchisement and they shouldn’t be viewed as one single voting bloc. Young college voters faced challenges during the COVID pandemic because many lived off-campus and had frequent changes of addresses, hindering their ability to register and vote, Bass said.

Bass said the voting experience of Black voters is “tied [with] those same forces that are trying to rewrite curriculums for social studies that limit the understanding of the contributions of communities of color; they’re connected to those same lawmakers that are trying to stifle the ability for campuses to be civically engaged by underfunding or cutting the budget for these social justice and civic engagement programs, which then places the burden on the students to self-educate themselves in regards to civic participation.”

“If we don’t begin to look deeper and more seriously at the implications of turnout beyond just apathy, we are going to lose a huge amount of voters downstream,” Bass said.

As the following numbers indicate, the loss of young Black votes came at the same time that North Carolina is home to an increasingly diverse electorate.

7.37 million — total number of registered voters in North Carolina for the 2020 election cycle

5.54 million — total number of votes counted in 2020, equivalent to a statewide turnout rate of 75%

4.7 million — number of white registered voters

1.52 million — of Black registered voters

227,869 —  of registered Hispanic or Latinx voters 

104,361 —  of registered Asian voters 

56,100 — of registered Native American voters 

72% — voter turnout for Asian voters, an increase from 63% in 206 — North Carolina saw a bump in both the number and turnout rate of Asian voters, one of the fastest-growing groups from 2012 to 2020

62.8% – voter turnout for Native American North Carolinians — turnout was just 50.8% in 2016.

85% – percentage of white voters over 66 who had their votes counted in 2020 (the highest age group by race)

49% — percentage of Black voters between 18-25 who had their votes counted in 2020 (lowest age group by race)

72.7% — overall turnout for Black women of all ages, much higher turnout than that of Black men (62.79%)

74% — Chatham County recorded the highest voter turnout for Black voters in the state in 2020

61.5% — Onslow County ranks at the bottom for Black voter turnout


Party affiliation

2.63 million — number of registered Democratic voters; by comparison, there were 2.71 million in 2016 and 2.87 million in 2012

2.23 million — of registered Republican voters, and increase from 2.08 million in 2016 and 2.05 million in 2012

46,509 — of registered Libertarian Party voters, up from 32,422 in 2016 and 19,373 in 2012

2.46 million — of unaffiliated registered voters, up from 2.07 million in 2016 and 1.71 million in 2012

81.6% — a higher percentage of Republican voters had their votes counted than Democrats (75.1%). In the past three elections, the Republican turnout rate has always grown steadily, an increase of 6.8 percentage points in 2016 and 3% in 2012.

Sources: NC Board of Elections via Bob Hall, former executive director of Democracy NC


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Yanqi Xu

Yanqi Xu, Courts, Law and Democracy Reporter, came to Policy Watch in December of 2020 from the Investigative Reporting Workshop in D.C., where she combined data and reporting to cover public accountability issues. Yanqi graduated with a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri in 2019. Her multimedia work appeared in PolitiFact and the Columbia Missourian, and was featured on the local NPR and NBC affiliates. Originally from China, Yanqi started her career producing newscasts to tell people what’s going on around the world.